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Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia has resigned over plans to arrest a top opposition leader, saying it risked escalating a political crisis in the ex-Soviet nation.

Gakharia on Thursday said he was stepping down because of disagreement in the government over enforcing a court order to arrest Nika Melia, saying to do so would “pose a risk to the health and lives of our citizens and increase political polarisation in the country.”

A court in Georgia on Wednesday ruled to place the country’s top opposition leader in pre-trial detention, in a case denounced by the opposition as a political witch hunt.

The move to arrest Nika Melia, chairman of the country’s main opposition force, the United National Movement (UNM), risks further fuelling the political crisis that has gripped Georgia following parliamentary elections in October.

His supporters have vowed to obstruct police if they move to arrest him.

Georgia’s independent TV stations have aired footage of riot police deployed close to the UNM headquarters.

On Wednesday evening, a court in the capital Tbilisi granted the prosecution’s request to send to pre-trial detention the 41-year-old politician who is accused of organising “mass violence” during 2019 anti-government protests.

The prosecution’s motion followed Melia’s refusal to pay an increased bail fee. He initially posted bail in 2019.

Melia, who faces up to nine years behind bars if found guilty, has rejected the charges as politically motivated.

“The case against me is judicial nonsense. Paying bail twice is nonsense. It is part of ongoing repr essions against the opposition,” he told AFP.

“There is no single opposition leader in Georgia, no single independent media outlet that doesn’t face criminal prosecution on trumped-up charges,” Melia added.

In a statement ahead of the trial, the European Union envoy to Georgia described the circumstances surrounding Melia’s prosecution as a “dangerous trajectory for Georgia and for Georgian democracy”.

All of the ex-Soviet country’s opposition parties are boycotting parliament, refusing to assume their mandates after elections marred by irregularities.

The opposition boycott weighs heavily on the political legitimacy of the ruling Georgian Dream party, controlled by oligarch and former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Leaders of nearly all of the country’s opposition parties gathered Wednesday at the UNM party headquarters in Tbilisi ahead of the trial in the event that police move to arrest Melia.

“We will not surrender Melia. If police hit us, we will fight physically and hit them back,” leader of the European Georgia party, Gigi Ugulava, told journalists.

On Tuesday, Georgia’s parliament voted to strip Melia of immunity from prosecution that he is guaranteed as a lawmaker, paving the way for his pre-trial detention.

The Georgian branch of the Transparency International rights watchdog said the “selective prosecution against the chairperson of the largest opposition party will seriously harm democracy in the country.”

In power since 2012, Georgian Dream has seen its popularity fall due to discontent over its failure to address economic stagnation and perceived backsliding on commitments to democracy.
(AFP)

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Donald Trump

‘Too Early to Say, Lots of Great Polls Out There’: Trump Cagey on Whether He’ll Run Again in 2024

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In one of his first public appearances since leaving office, former president Donald Trump used a Newsmax interview to commemorate conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, whose death was announced earlier, to weigh in on issues ranging from the Senate’s failed attempt to convict him during his second impeachment trial to being kicked off Twitter.

Donald Trump was doggedly cagey on all questions pertaining to his political future as he appeared on the cable television network Newsmax on Wednesday evening.

Speaking publicly again after the Senate failed to convict him during his second impeachment trial, he nevertheless told host Greg Kelly that he was buoyed by strong polling figures of late, while emphasising it was too soon to announce whether he’ll run for president again in 2024.

“As far as 24, too early to say, but I see a lot of great polls out there, that’s for sure,” said Trump.

The interview was intended to eulogise the late conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, whose death from lung cancer was announced earlier that day, yet was used by the ex-president as an opportunity to weigh in on several issues, including his immediate political plans.

Trump claimed that he wanted to “be somewhat quiet” after exiting the White House, but insisted his poll numbers have remained strong after he was impeached.

​According to a new Gallup poll, among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, just 10 per cent favoured convicting Trump to bar him from ever holding public office again, while 88 percent oppose the former president’s conviction.

“Well we have tremendous support, I won’t say yet, but we have tremendous support. I am looking at poll numbers that are through the roof. Only I could get impeached and my numbers go up. The numbers are very good and very high, they are higher than before the election,” said the former president.

As Donald Trump left Washington, D.C. on the morning of President Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th president of the United States on 20 January, he vowed to his supporters that “we will be back in some form.”

Speculation has been rife regarding Trump’s political ambitions, however strong support among Republicans shows he remains the GOP voters’ top choice for a 2024 nominee.

According to the Politico-Morning Consult poll released on 16 February, 59 percent of GOP voters said Trump should play a “major role” in the Republican Party in the future, with 54 percent of respondents saying they would back the former president in a hypothetical 2024 Republican presidential primary. Only 17 percent believed that the former president should play no role at all in the Republican Party.

The poll also showed that the share of Republicans who said Trump is very or somewhat responsible for the Capitol riots on 6-7 January had dropped 14 points, to 27 per cent.

Additionally, 51 percent of voters said they disapproved of the Senate’s acquittal of Trump, with 79 percent of Republican voters approving the Senate’s acquittal of the ex-POTUS.

During the interview, the former president also availed himself of the opportunity to reiterate his claims that last year’s election had been “stolen” from him, and criticised his successful rival in the 2020 bid for the White House – Joe Biden – over his recent statements regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.

The latter was an apparent reference to Biden’s claims that they didn’t have jabs when the Democrat entered office. Trump insisted Biden was “either not telling the truth, or he’s mentally gone”, adding that his administration was actually providing vaccines and that Biden had taken his first shot “long before” Inauguration Day.

​The former president also vented his frustration over being kicked off the Twitter social media platform in the wake of the 6 January Capitol riots.

“Twitter is not the same, I understand it has become very boring and millions of people are leaving it, it is not the same and I understand that. We are negotiating with other people and there is also the option of building your own site,” said Trump, who is yet to find a new platform for his messaging.
(Sputnik)

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Capitol riot

Angry Trump partisans facing major obstacles in effort to oust Murkowski after impeachment vote

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With fellow Republican Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Mitt Romney (R-UT) facing pushback and censure in their home states for voting to convict Donald Trump of inciting an insurrection in his just-concluded impeachment trial, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) may get flack, but she has far fewer worries about losing her seat if she runs for re-election.

Murkowski is the only one of the dissident Republicans facing a referendum on her vote in the form of facing voters in the coming midterm election, but recent election law changes in Alaska make the probability of a pro-Trump insurgent nominee from the right unseating her as a nominee highly unlikely.

According to the National Review’s John McCormack, Alaska enacted new voting rules in the just concluded election that switched the state’s primary to an open one and not divided by parties.

As McCormack writes, “First, Alaska got rid of partisan primaries and established an open primary in which the top four primary candidates will compete in the general election.” Add to that, Alaska will be implementing ranked-choice voting that will create another obstacle.

According to Ballotpedia, “A candidate needs a simple majority of the vote (50%+1) to be declared the winner of an election. If no candidate wins a simple majority of the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated. People who voted for that candidate as their first choice would have their votes redistributed to their second choice.”

McCormack also notes that this will not be the first time that Murkowski has drawn the ire of far-right Republicans. In 2010 she lost the primary to arch-conservative candidate Joe Miller, only to defeat him in the general election by successfully running a write-in campaign.

Since 2016, Murkowski has bucked her party on a number of issues. She declined to vote for Trump or the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020 (just as she had done in 2016),” before adding, “It’s been a delicate dance for Murkowski, but if she simply finishes first or second place in the first round of balloting in 2022, she’ll very likely keep her seat.”
(Raw story media)

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Capitol riot

Why was Capitol police chief’s request for National Guard denied ahead of riot? Republicans ask Nancy Pelosi

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House GOP seeking to learn why the National Guard wasn’t in place to prevent the January 6 Capitol riot and what took them so long to arrive are blaming Speaker Nancy Pelosi for denying them access to evidence.

Even though then-chief of the Capitol Police Steve Sund requested the troops on January 4, he was denied by Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving and told it would be bad “optics,” according to an open letter four GOP ranking members of House committees sent to Pelosi on Monday.

Irving took an hour to approve Sund’s request for National Guard backup on January 6, as a crowd of supporters of President Donald Trump broke into the building, the Republicans noted, asking if the delay was due to him having to consult Pelosi.

The California Democrat proceeded to fire both Irving and Sund, and appointed a retired Army general to conduct a security review – without so much as informing the minority, the letter says.

When Republicans attempted to obtain more information about what happened, they were met with “obstruction and inability to produce and preserve information” by House staff appointed by Pelosi. Worse yet, some of the material the Republicans requested was recently provided only to House Judiciary Democrats, the letter added.

This is unacceptable, Madam Speaker, that direction could have only come from you.

The letter calls on Pelosi to end the “political charade” of looking for enemies inside the Capitol and imposing rules she isn’t following herself. It was signed by Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) of the Judiciary, Devin Nunes (R-California) of Intelligence, James Comer (R-Kentucky) of Oversight & Reform and Rodney Davis (R-Illinois), of the House Administration committee.

Democrats have presented the events of January 6 as an “insurrection against our democracy” and blamed it on Trump and the Republicans. They impeached Trump in the House and sought to convict him in the Senate, but failed on Saturday as they lacked the votes.

Other aspects of the partisan narrative about the Capitol riot have collapsed as well, as it emerged that Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick was not injured by the crowd, and his cause of death remains officially unknown. Of the four people who died that day, only one – Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt – was actually killed, by a Capitol Police officer who is unlikely to face any charges in the matter.

The razor wire fence around the Capitol set up after the attack remains in place, as do several thousand National Guard troops initially brought in to secure the inauguration of President Joe Biden and provide protection against unspecified threats during the impeachment.
(RT.com)

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