EU official calls Georgia's 'foreign agents' bill unacceptable | WTAQ News Talk | 97.5FM · 1360AM

TBILISI (Reuters) – A senior European Union official warned Georgia's government on Thursday that its proposed law on “foreign agents” was unacceptable and would pose a hindrance to the country's hopes of joining the EU if passed in its current form would be accepted.

The bill, which would require organizations that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as agents of foreign influence, has sparked an ongoing political crisis in the South Caucasus country.

Georgia's parliament on Wednesday approved the second reading of the bill, which the opposition says is inspired by the Kremlin, while police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse a large crowd of protesters.

The government says the law is necessary to ensure foreign funding of NGOs is transparent.

For almost a month, more and more demonstrators have been taking to the streets every evening. A surging crowd, tens of thousands strong, closed central Tbilisi on Wednesday in the largest anti-government rally yet.

Gert Jan Koopman, director general of the European Commission's Enlargement Directorate, told reporters in the Georgian capital that Brussels was monitoring the situation and was concerned about what was happening.

“There are worrying developments in relation to the legislation. “The transparency law passed in second reading is unacceptable in its current form and will seriously hinder the EU accession path,” said Koopman.

“But there is still time. We will prepare our recommendations (on whether to start EU accession negotiations with Georgia) in September and publish our report in October-November, so there is still time. But the ball is clearly in the government’s court,” he added.

Georgia's parliament is expected to give the bill its third reading in about two weeks.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, billionaire entrepreneur founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party, said in a rare speech on Monday that Georgia must defend its sovereignty against foreign attempts to control it, suggesting that opponents of the bill were acting in the interests of the West.

The standoff is seen as part of a broader battle that could decide whether Georgia, a country of 3.7 million people that has seen turmoil, war and revolution since the collapse of the Soviet Union, moves closer to Europe or falls back under Moscow's influence moves.

(Reporting by Felix Light; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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