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Thursday June 13, 2024

Georgia passes ‘foreign influence’ bill despite protests

Critics say the bill is a symbol of the ex-Soviet republic´s drift closer to Russia´s orbit over recent years

By AFP
May 15, 2024
Demonstrators wave flags during a rally to protest against a bill on foreign agents in Tbilisi, Georgia, May 13, 2024. — Reuters
Demonstrators wave flags during a rally to protest against a bill on "foreign agents" in Tbilisi, Georgia, May 13, 2024. — Reuters

TBILISI: Georgia´s parliament on Tuesday adopted a controversial “foreign influence” law that has sparked weeks of mass protests against the measure, which Brussels has warned would undermine Tbilisi´s European aspirations.

Lawmakers voted 84 to 30 in favour during the third and final reading of the law, which was widely denounced as mirroring repressive Russian legislation used to silence dissent.

The vote came as street protesters skirmished with riot police outside the building in the centre of the capital, where demonstrations have taken place over the last month.

Scuffles had broken out inside the chamber earlier as opposition lawmakers clashed with members of the ruling Georgian Dream party.

Critics say the bill is a symbol of the ex-Soviet republic´s drift closer to Russia´s orbit over recent years.

Around 2,000 mainly young protesters gathered outside parliament and chanted “no to the Russian law”, as news spread that lawmakers had adopted the law.

Tbilisi has seen weeks of mass rallies over the bill that culminated on Saturday, when up to 100,000 people took to the streets in the largest anti-government rally in Georgia´s recent history.

The EU has said the law is “incompatible” with Georgia´s longstanding bid to join the 27-nation bloc, while Washington has warned its adoption would signal Tbilisi´s departure from the Western orbit.

The US Assistant Secretary of State, James O´Brien, on Tuesday met in Tbilisi with Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, whose office said each had “expressed their concerns” over recent developments in Georgia.

UK Secretary of State for Defence, Grant Shapps, labelled the foreign influence law an act of “Russian interference in Georgia”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov hit back, accusing the West of “undisguised interference in Georgia´s internal affairs”.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told AFP that he would be travelling on Tuesday to Georgia together with his counterparts from Iceland, Estonia and Latvia to express “our concerns”.