Thousands protest against draft law on “foreign agents” – DW – May 1, 2024

Amid fierce clashes inside and outside Georgia's parliament, MPs passed the second reading of the controversial “foreign influence” law on Wednesday.

The proposed law would require media and non-commercial organizations to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad.

Critics say it is similar to a Russian law designed to silence dissent and suppress independent news media.

Georgian Prime Minister Iraqi Kobakhidze's ruling Georgian Dream party is committed to passing the bill into law by mid-May.

Fisticuffs in Parliament

Voting in Georgia's parliament on Wednesday was tense. There were scuffles between MPs and opposition members were expelled.

Georgian television showed a pro-government lawmaker throwing a book at opposition lawmakers while others shouted and physically confronted opponents.

Thousands of people also gathered outside the parliament building late Wednesday, many of them waving Georgian and EU flags.

Thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the parliament building to protest against the changeImage: Zurab Tsertsvadze/AP Photo/Image Alliance

MPs voted 83-23 to approve the bill in a second reading of three readings needed before it could be sent to the president for his signature to become law.

President Salome Zurabishvili is widely expected to veto the measure, but the ruling party has enough seats in parliament to override it.

Weeks of protests

Protests against the bill began in mid-April, with a largely youth-led pro-EU protest movement clashing several times with security forces. Protesters condemn what they say is a Russian-inspired law.

On Tuesday, 63 protesters were arrested and security forces used water cannons, tear gas and stun grenades to break up a demonstration against the law.

Dozens of people detained after recent protests and violence in Georgia

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Levan Khabeishvili, leader of the United National Movement party, Georgia's largest opposition bloc, was heavy-handed as he spoke in parliament on Wednesday.

His party said police attacked him during the protests.

“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 said Khabeishvili broke through a police cordon the night before and was injured while “resisting.”

The European Union, which granted Georgia candidate status in December, said the bill could halt its integration into the bloc.

The Georgian Dream party is accused of wanting to bring the former Soviet republic closer to Russia.

European Council President Charles Michel had said that the bill was “not in line with Georgia's application for EU membership” and that it would “take Georgia further away from the EU, not closer.”

lo/nm (AFP, Reuters)

Anna Harden

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