Georgia Passes Controversial “Foreign Influence” Bill Despite Protests

Georgia Passes Controversial Foreign Influence Bill Despite Protests
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The vote came as street protests continued outside the building for more than a month.

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.

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

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The vote came as street protests continued outside the building for more than a month.

Scuffles had broken out inside the chamber earlier as opposition MPs, who strongly oppose the measure, clashed with lawmakers from the ruling Georgian Dream party ahead of the vote.

And there were also clashes between riot police and protesters outside the building in the centre of Tbilisi.

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 for another day of protests on Tuesday.

“No to the Russian law,” they chanted as news that the parliament had adopted the bill spread through the crowd.

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 for joining the 27-nation bloc, while Washington has warned its adoption would signal Tbilisi’s departure from the Western orbit.

Both protesters and Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze have vowed not to back down.

“We will protest until this Russian government will leave our country,” said 20-year-old Salome outside parliament on Tuesday.

Fresh rallies have been called for Tuesday evening.

– Fears for EU integration –

The bill requires NGOs and media outlets that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad to register as bodies “pursuing the interests of a foreign power”.

Russia has used a similar law to silence public figures and organisations that disagree with or deviate from the Kremlin’s views.

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The EU repeated on Tuesday its position that the bill undermines Tbilisi’s desire to move closer to the bloc.

“EU member countries are very clear that if this law is adopted it will be a serious obstacle for Georgia in its European perspective,” said its spokesman, Peter Stano. 

Last year, Georgia was granted official EU candidacy, and Brussels is set to decide in December on the formal launch of accession talks — an unlikely prospect after the law’s adoption.

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili — who is at loggerheads with the government — has vowed to veto the law, though Georgian Dream has enough MPs to override it.

Young Georgians have voiced outrage over the possibility that a future closer to Europe is at risk.

“We were five years old when the war with Russia happened. We have bad childhood memories of that,” Doborjginidze said, referring to Moscow’s 2008 invasion of Georgia.

Georgian society is staunchly anti-Kremlin. Georgia’s bid for membership of the EU and NATO is enshrined in its constitution and — according to opinion polls — supported by more than 80 percent of the population.

Georgian Dream backed down from pushing through a similar “foreign agents” law a year ago in the face of massive street rallies.

NGOs and government critics have reported months of intimidation and harassment in the run-up to the bill being reintroduced in a targeted campaign that has escalated amid the tensions.

– ‘Worried but not scared’ –

Georgian Dream has depicted the protesters as violent mobs, has insisted it is committed to joining the EU, and has said the bill is aimed at increasing transparency of NGO funding. 

But the party’s main backer Bidzina Ivanishvili — a secretive figure who made his fortune in 1990s Russia — made an anti-Western speech last month and has accused NGOs of plotting a revolution with Western backing. 

The controversy surrounding the bill comes five months before a parliamentary election seen as a crucial democratic test for the Black Sea country. 

Some protesters say their ultimate goal is to vote out Georgian Dream, which has been in power since 2012. 

“We are waiting for when we will have a choice to choose a new government,” said 27-year-old hotel manager Peter, who declined to give his last name over fears for his security.

“These people in there don’t listen to us at all,” said teacher Mariam Javakhishvili, standing outside parliament with her son.

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The 34-year-old said the ruling party lawmakers were undoing progress made since the collapse of the Soviet Union, adding: “I don’t want to let that happen for my kids.”

“I’m worried about police violence but I’m not scared of it.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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