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Georgia parliament passes ‘foreign agent’ bill, triggering massive protests

In News, World
May 15, 2024

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Georgia after parliament approved a “foreign agents” bill despite widespread unrest in the country and warnings from the European Union and the United States.

The bill requires media and NGOs to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad. It is seen by many as influenced by similar legislation in Russia, which has been used to clamp down on the Kremlin’s political opponents and dissent.

On Tuesday, politicians voted 84 to 30 in favour during the third and final reading of the bill.

Protesters skirmished with riot police in the street outside the parliament building in the centre of the capital, Tbilisi, where demonstrations have raged for the last month.

Scuffles even broke out inside the chamber as opposition MPs clashed with members of the ruling Georgian Dream party.

Georgian lawmakers fighting
Georgian politicians fighting during a parliament session in Tbilisi [Mtavari Channel via AP]

The draft next goes to President Salome Zourabichvili, who has said she will veto it, but her decision can be overridden by another vote in parliament, which is controlled by Georgian Dream and its allies.

Critics say the bill is a symbol of the former Soviet republic’s drift closer to Russia’s orbit in recent years.

Chanting “no to the Russian law”, about 2,000 mainly young protesters gathered outside parliament ahead of the vote and several thousand joined the rally in the evening after news spread that legislators had approved the measure.

Demonstrators later blocked traffic at a key road intersection in central Tbilisi.

The Ministry of Interior Affairs said 13 demonstrators were arrested for “disobeying police orders”.

The EU has said the law is “incompatible” with Georgia’s longstanding bid to join the 27-nation bloc.

Last year, Georgia was granted official EU candidacy, and the bloc is set to decide in December on the formal launch of accession talks, an unlikely prospect if the law comes into force.

During a visit to Georgia, US Assistant Secretary of State Jim O’Brien said the US could impose “travel restrictions and financial sanctions against individuals involved and their families” if the law is not brought in compliance with Western standards and there was violence against peaceful protesters.

He also warned that some $390m allocated this year by the US to Georgia would come “under review if we are now regarded as an adversary and not a partner”.

Georgian Dream has depicted the protesters as violent mobs, insisted it is committed to joining the EU, and said the bill is aimed at increasing transparency of NGO funding.

The controversy surrounding the bill comes five months before a parliamentary election seen as a crucial democratic test for the Black Sea country.

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