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9 Mar, 2023 19:20

Georgia protests persist despite government climbdown

Opposition activists rallied in Tbilisi for the third night in a row, though all their demands have been met
Georgia protests persist despite government climbdown

Thousands of protesters gathered outside the Georgian parliament again on Thursday, demanding the release of everyone arrested during two days of rioting over a proposed “foreign agents” law. The government has already withdrawn the proposal and released everyone not charged with criminal offenses.

Opposition politicians are reportedly demanding the government’s resignation, and threatened that the protests would become “harsh and uncompromising” unless everyone detained was released, according to local media outlets. A total of 133 people were detained during the riots, the Georgian interior ministry said on Thursday morning. 

Aside from “several” who were given a court hearing, the rest were “released after the legal limit for their preliminary detention lapsed,” the police said in a statement.  Georgian law limits detention without charges to 48 hours. The police are still investigating several cases of assault on officers during the “violent events” outside the parliament. 

Starting on Tuesday, protesters waving US, EU, Ukrainian and Georgian flags besieged the parliament and tried to break in several times, clashing with police and pelting the officers with rocks, bottles, fireworks and Molotov cocktails. The authorities responded with tear gas, flash-bangs and water cannons.

Opposition parties called for the protests after the parliament overwhelmingly approved a bill that would require any organization that gets 20% or more of its funding from abroad to register as a foreign agent. Critics denounced the bill as “Russian,” while the US embassy said its passage would be a “dark day for democracy.” 

President Salome Zurabishvili, who is currently visiting the US, endorsed the protests and said the bill would derail Georgia’s “Euro-Atlantic integrations.” So did Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, who thanked the demonstrators for flying Ukrainian flags. The EU threatened to withdraw support for Georgia over its alleged “intimidation of essential entities for democracy.” 

On Thursday morning, the ruling coalition said it was withdrawing the bill because “the machine of lies was able to present the bill in a negative light and mislead a certain part of the public.” The ruling Georgian Dream party said it intended to “better explain to the public what the bill was for and why it was important to ensure the transparency of foreign influence in our country,” once the populace calms down.