Georgia protests over foreign agents bill continue into second day
Tens of thousands of people gathered outside Georgia’s parliament on Wednesday on the second day of protests in the capital Tbilisi over a draft “foreign agents” bill that critics fear could drive a wedge between the Caucasian nation and Europe.
Demonstrators were seen waving the flags of the European Union – which Georgia applied for last year – and those of the United States and Ukraine, as well as the Georgian flag. Videos posted on social media also showed some protesters throwing rocks at the windows of the building and attempting to breach a protective barrier, with police deploying water cannon and tear gas.
The controversial bill would require organizations that receive 20 percent or more of their annual income from abroad to register as “foreign agents” or face hefty fines. .
That is what the ruling Georgian Dream party has done said that the bill is modeled on US law, Reuters reports. But critics say it sparks a controversial law in neighboring Russia that forms the basis of draconian restrictions and demands on organizations and individuals with foreign ties.
The bill passed the legislature at first reading on Tuesday and several steps are still needed before it becomes law. However, its eventual passage is considered likely as the bill enjoys strong support among legislators.
In a statement on Wednesday, Georgia’s Interior Ministry “called on the protesters, organizers and political leaders not to cross the boundaries of the law on freedom of assembly and expression”.
At least 76 people have been arrested in connection with Tuesday’s protests.
Georgia has long played a delicate balancing act between its citizens’ pro-European sentiment and the geopolitical objectives of its powerful neighbour, Russia.
But an EU statement on Tuesday warned that the law would be “incompatible with EU values and standards” and could have “serious consequences for our relations”.
Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili said she believed the bill “is very similar to Russian politics”.
“This law is not necessary, it comes from nowhere. Nobody asked for it,” Zourabichvili told CNN’s Isa Soares on Wednesday.
Zourabichvili has vowed to veto the bill. But the supreme executive power rests with the government headed by Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili.
Georgia applied for EU membership in March 2022. Although it has not been granted candidacy status, the European Council has expressed its readiness to grant it that status if Georgia implements certain reforms.
“For Georgia, there are certain conditions that are strongly related to the democratic credentials for democratic reforms,” European Union Vice Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič told CNN.
The bloc’s member states have since had “very intense discussions” about Georgia’s candidacy, said Šefčovič, who spoke to CNN’s Richard Quest on Wednesday.
The US has said it is “deeply troubled” by the bill, with State Department spokesman Ned Price describing it on Wednesday as “Kremlin-inspired”.
“Parliament’s proposal to bring forward these Kremlin-inspired bills is incompatible with the clear desire of the Georgian people for European integration and its democratic development,” Price said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, addressed Georgian protesters directly, thanking them on Wednesday for raising his country’s flag during the demonstrations and wishing them “democratic success”.
“I want to thank everyone who is holding Ukrainian flags in the squares and streets of Georgia today,” Zelensky said.
“We want to be in the European Union and we will be. We want Georgia to join the European Union, and I’m sure it will,” Zelensky later added. “We want Moldova to join the European Union, and I am sure it will. All the free peoples of Europe deserve this.”