EU's Michel urges Georgia to implement deal to end political crisis

·2-min read

TBILISI (Reuters) - The head of the European Council, Charles Michel, urged Georgian political leaders during a visit to Tbilisi on Tuesday to implement a deal brokered this week by EU diplomats to help the South Caucasus country emerge from a political crisis.

Georgia has been locked in a political crisis since the Georgian Dream ruling party won a parliamentary election last October in a vote the opposition said was marred by violations.

The February detention of opposition politician Nika Melia, chairman of the United National Movement (UNM), sparked street protests and led to the resignation of the prime minister, further exacerbating the crisis. Melia stood accused of inciting violence at street protests in June 2019, a charge he has dismissed as politically motivated.

"I am convinced that the decision taken yesterday by many political leaders is a very strong signal," Michel told a news conference in Tbilisi, alongside Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili. "It's a very strong message, but it's not enough. Now they need to implement it."

The deal brokered by the European Union on Monday foresees sweeping electoral and judicial reforms, including more power sharing in parliament, starting from the autumn session of 2021.

Under the agreement, early parliamentary elections will be called in 2022 if Georgian Dream receives less than 43% of votes in local government elections set for October.

The deal could also lead to Melia being released within a week under an amnesty for convictions stemming from the 2019 protests.

Michel, who chairs summits of EU leaders and helps steer the bloc's agenda, said the deal opens up "the path for deeper cooperation between Georgia and the European Union".

Georgia, a former Soviet republic of 3.7 million people, has for years sought to deepen its ties with both the EU and NATO despite strong opposition from Russia.

(Reporting by Dato Chkhikvishvili; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Gareth Jones)