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Georgia set to approve controversial law after protests

15-05-2024

TBILISI: Georgia’s parliament is expected to give final approval to a controversial “foreign agent” law that has sparked weeks of mass street protests.

Critics of the governing Georgian Dream party say the bill which they call the “Russia law” could be used to threaten civil liberties.

Thousands of people are gathering near the parliament to protest the expected imminent passage of the law.

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze has vowed the bill would pass.

On Monday, Kobakhidze also warned that if authorities backed down at the bill’s third reading, Georgia would lose sovereignty and “easily share the fate of Ukraine”, without detailing what he meant.

Massive rallies have gripped the Caucasus country for nearly a month.

Photos and footage posted online in recent days appeared to show violent altercations between protesters and police.

As she walked into the parliament building on Tuesday morning, President Salome Zurabishvili, an opponent of Kobakhidze, told media she would veto the law. However, Georgian Dream has sufficient numbers in parliament to overrule her.

Under the bill now due to go for its third and final reading NGOs and independent media that receive more than 20% of their funding from foreign donors would have to register as organizations “bearing the interests of a foreign power”.

They would also be monitored by the Justice Ministry and could be forced to share sensitive information or face hefty fines of up to 25,000 GEL ($9,400; £7,500).

Protesters are concerned that the legislation would be used by the government to suppress its opponents, and derail Georgia’s hopes of joining the European Union.

Parallels have also been drawn with an authoritarian bill which came into force in Russia in 2012, and which the Kremlin has since used to clamp down on dissidents.

Protests in Georgia have continued in a last-ditch effort to prevent the passing of a controversial law.

After an overnight standoff with protesters outside parliament in Tbilisi, security forces pulled out from the main square on Monday morning.

The final voting on the proposed legislation is scheduled for Tuesday.

Georgian Dream lawmakers rushed it through a committee vote, approving it in 67 seconds.

The bill now due to go for its third and final reading targets civil society organizations and independent media that receive foreign funding.

Protesters are concerned that it would be used by the government to clamp down on opponents, and would harm Georgia’s hopes of joining the European Union.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators spent the night outside Tbilisi’s parliament building, dancing as it rained through the dark hours.

Once the sun rose on Monday, MPs from the governing party arriving ahead of the session were met with shouts and chants of “slaves” and “Russians”.

Ranks of police with shields and water cannon were stationed to allow legislators to get into the parliament building. Photos and footage online appeared to show violent altercations between protesters and police.

Two US citizens and one Russian were among 20 people arrested at protests, Russian state news reported, citing the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Protesters plan to continue their noise through the parliamentary session in the hopes the sound will encourage MPs to reconsider voting for the bill.

Opponents of the bill say the measures are inspired by Russian legislation passed in 2012, which they say has been used since then to crack down on critics of the Kremlin. (Int’l Monitoring Desk)

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