Thousands of protesters packed the capital of Georgia after the approval of the controversial “Russian law”

Thousands of protesters packed the capital of Georgia after the approval of the controversial “Russian law”
Thousands of protesters packed the capital of Georgia after the approval of the controversial “Russian law”

At least 13 people were arrested (REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze)

Huge crowds of protesters blocked streets in the capital of Georgia and milled angrily outside the parliament building after lawmakers passed a bill on Tuesday. “foreign influence” which critics call a Russian-style threat to freedom of expression and aspirations to join the European Union.

Shortly after the 84-30 vote, a crowd of protesters outside parliament attempted to break through metal barriers near the building. At least 13 people were arrested and Georgian news reports showed one of them with serious cuts and bruises on her head.

The protests expanded after dark, with thousands of protesters marching toward Heroes’ Square, about two kilometers from parliament, and blocking streets converging on the square.

The bill requires media outlets, non-governmental organizations and other nonprofit groups to register as “who pursue the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of their financing from abroad.

The government says the bill is necessary to stop what it considers harmful foreign actors trying to destabilize politics in the South Caucasus nation of 3.7 million people.

FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators taking part in a rally to protest against the “foreign agents” bill in Tbilisi, Georgia. May 14 (REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze)

The opposition has denounced the bill as “Russian law” because Moscow uses similar legislation to repress independent media, non-profit organizations and activists critical of the Kremlin.

The president of the European Council, Charles Michelsaid on Tuesday that if Georgians “want to join the EU, they must respect the fundamental principles of the rule of law and democratic principles.”

The White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said the United States was “deeply concerned” about the legislation, which she said “goes against democratic values ​​and would distance Georgia even further from the values ​​of the European Union.” And let’s not forget NATO too.”

The promulgation of the law “will force us to fundamentally reevaluate our relationship with Georgia,” he added.

The United States Under Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, James O’Brienmet with Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze on Tuesday and told reporters that “if the law moves forward in contravention of EU rules, democracy here is undermined and there is violence against peaceful protesters, then we will see restrictions coming from the United States.” Joined”.

The bill is almost identical to one that the ruling Georgian Dream party was pressured to withdraw last year after street protests. New demonstrations have shaken Georgia for weeks, with protesters fighting with the police, who used tear gas and water cannons to disperse them.

The president Salome Zourabichvili, who is increasingly at odds with the ruling party, has promised veto the bill, but Georgian Dream has a sufficient majority to override that eventual veto. Zourabichvili has 14 days to act.

Over the weekend, thousands of people took to the streets of the capital, Tbilisi.

Inside parliament, the debate was interrupted by a fight. The legislator of the Georgian Dream, Dimitry Samkharadzewas seen charging against Levan Khabeishvili, leader of the main opposition party, United National Movement, after he accused Samkharadze of organizing mobs to beat opposition supporters.

In a speech on Tuesday, the Georgian Dream lawmaker Archil Talakvadze accused “the radical and anti-national political opposition united by political vendetta” of using the protests for their own political ends and “waiting for events to take a radical turn.”

Ana Tsitlidze, of the United National Movement, said the protests showed how unified was Georgia “in the fight for its European future.”

Another prominent opposition figure, Giorgi Vashadze, stated that the Georgian Dream party “is completely outside the constitution, outside the law, and they are betraying the European future of our country.”

(With information from AP)

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