Georgia is moving closer to passing a so-called “Russian law” against media. Protesters gather again

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Georgia's parliament moved a step closer Wednesday to passing a law that critics fear will restrict media freedom and jeopardize the country's bid to join the European Union, as tens of thousands of protesters gathered in surrounding areas Streets crowded.

The vote came hours after dozens of people were arrested as police used tear gas and water cannon overnight to break up the latest protest. Protesters condemn the bill as “the Russian law” because neighboring Russia uses similar laws to stigmatize independent news media and organizations critical of the Kremlin.

The law requires media and non-commercial organizations to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of funding from abroad. The ruling Georgian Dream party. backed up a similar proposal last year after that Large crowds protested.

83 of Georgia's 150 lawmakers approved the bill in its second reading. A third and final vote in Parliament is required before it can come into force. This is expected in the coming days.

Relations between Russia and Georgia have been complicated and turbulent since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Georgia joined international resolutions condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but also became a prime target for Russians fleeing military mobilization and political crackdown. Even Georgia's ruling party experienced internal tensions with its neighbor.

According to the Interior Ministry, 63 people were arrested during the recent protests.

On Wednesday, Georgian television showed Levan Khabeishvili, leader of the pro-Western United National Movement party, arriving at parliament with bandages on his nose and forehead. Members of Khabeishvili's party said he was attacked by police during the protests.

Purple bruises and cuts could be seen around Khabeishvili's left eye as he urged his MPs to scrap the bill.

“If you are not interested in how the leader of the largest opposition party was beaten up, then I would like to ask you again – on behalf of the young people who were injured, hit on the head and bruised – even if I have no hope, pull “Back this law,” he said.

Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandre Darakhvelidze claimed at a briefing that Khabeishvili had broken through a police cordon the night before and was injured while “resisting.” Darakhvelidze claimed that protesters and opposition leaders were “constantly using violence.” Police broke up the protest after demonstrators tried to block the entrance to parliament.

As protesters gathered again on Wednesday, opposition lawmaker Beqa Liluashvili released a live video from the parliament chamber in which MPs can be seen shouting and physically confronting each other. One threw a stack of papers at the opponents. Others held their colleagues back.

Opposition MP Helene Khoshtaria accused the ruling party of trying to “draw Georgia into Russia’s influence” and “shut off its European future.”

Speaking to The Associated Press outside parliament, she described the authorities' response to the rallies as “extremely authoritarian” but said it would not deter protesters.

“We don’t want the Soviet regime that our parents experienced,” one protester, Kato Salukvadze, told the AP late Tuesday. “I think everyone should take to the streets and say no to Russian law and yes to Europe.”

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, who is increasingly at odds with the ruling party, criticized the bill and said she would veto it if it was approved by parliament. But the ruling party can override the veto and ask the speaker of parliament to sign the bill.

Georgia's presidency, which has significantly limited powers, will move this year from a directly elected position to one chosen by an electoral college that includes members of parliament.

Anna Harden

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