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Georgia's parliament cancels its session after a building was damaged during large protests

Georgia's parliament has canceled its plenary session after massive protests against a proposed law that critics fear will restrict media freedom and jeopardize the country's bid for European Union membership

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Georgia's parliament canceled its plenary session on Thursday after massive protests against a draft law that critics fear will restrict media freedom and jeopardize the country's bid for European Union membership.

Parliament's announcement said the cancellation was related to damage to the building during Wednesday's protests, in which police used water cannons, tear gas and pepper spray against tens of thousands of demonstrators.

Parliament on Wednesday approved a second reading of the bill that would require 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 third and final reading was expected in mid-May and it was not clear whether canceling Thursday's session would have any impact on the bill's progress. The ruling Georgian Dream party withdrew a similar proposal last year after large crowds protested.

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.

83 of Georgia's 150 lawmakers approved the bill in its second reading, while 23 voted against it.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, 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.

The EU's foreign policy arm also criticized Georgian Dream's decision earlier this month to reintroduce the law, which it said raised “serious concerns” about media freedom in the country – something it described as “crucial to the EU accession process”. .

Anna Harden

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