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7 Mar, 2023 21:59

Police break up anti-government protest in Georgia

Demonstrators besieged the parliament in Tbilisi over proposed laws on “foreign agents”
Police break up anti-government protest in Georgia

Riot police in Tbilisi deployed tear gas and water cannons late on Tuesday to disperse demonstrators besieging the Georgian parliament in protest over bills that would restrict the activities of foreign-funded organizations.

Live feeds from local TV networks showed thousands gathered outside the entrance to parliament on Rustaveli Avenue, defying police orders to leave or face “legal measures.”

Police eventually advanced on the protesters and pushed them away from the parliament building. By 3 am local time, the crowds had mostly dispersed, according to local media.

Earlier in the day, Georgian lawmakers voted 76-13 in favor of a bill that would mandate all organizations that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as foreign agents. The other proposal under consideration was patterned after the American FARA, enacted in the 1930s, which would have applied to individuals and included criminal penalties.

Opposition parties denounced the bill as “Russian” in style. They were backed by the US embassy in Tbilisi, which called its passage a “dark day for democracy” in Georgia and said it would “undermine the important work of many Georgian organizations helping fellow citizens.”

EU foreign policy head Josep Borrell has also described the proposed bill as contrary to EU values and called on Georgia to support “democracy, rule of law and human rights.”

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, who is currently visiting the US, endorsed the protests and said she would veto the law if it were to pass in the final reading.

“This law was not needed by anyone, and it does not come from anywhere, if not at the behest of Moscow,” she said in a video address from New York. “I do not care about its article-by-article discussion, its similarity to the old American law, which we well know serves a completely different purpose.”

The Georgian constitution, Zurabishvili continued, says the government’s principal obligation is “to bring this country to the European Union, to protect the path of European integration,” and the law in question is “taking us all away from Europe.”

Born in France, Zurabishvili was the French ambassador to Tbilisi in 2004, when the US-backed “Rose Revolution” brought Mikhail Saakashvili to power. She quickly received Georgian citizenship and became the country’s foreign minister. The ruling Georgian Dream party – which ousted Saakashvili in 2012 – endorsed Zurabishvili in the 2018 presidential election, but they have since fallen out.