Georgia withdraws controversial foreign-agent bill after protests

Georgia withdraws controversial foreign-agent bill after protests

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After two days of violent street protests, Georgia’s ruling Dream party on Thursday withdrew a bill that would have required some non-governmental groups and independent media to register as “foreign agents.”

The bill was opposed by thousands of protesters who clashed with law enforcement outside the parliament building in Tbilisi over the past two days, comparing it to a decades-old law in Russia that the Kremlin has used to target dissenting voices. Many were concerned that the bill would threaten the country’s chances of joining the European Union.

The decision to withdraw the bill unconditionally was taken to maintain “peace”, according to the ruling party. Restoring stability and economic development, as well as European integration, was a priority, a statement issued by the party and its allies said, according to the government-linked website Agenda.

The ruling party slammed its critics, saying the bill was presented in a “negative light” to mislead the public by comparing it to the Russian law. The party said it would hold meetings with the public to explain the reasoning behind the bill once the tension had subsided. He also added that demonstrators were subjected to “illegal” actions, referring to the violence in this week’s protests.

In Georgia, two days of protests over the ‘foreign influence’ bill

The EU delegation in Georgia welcomed the announcement. “We encourage all political leaders in GE to resume pro-EU reforms, in a comprehensive and constructive manner and in line with the 12 priorities for Georgia to achieve candidate status,” the bloc said in a tweet on Thursday.

The ruling government, led by Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili of the Dream party, has routinely clashed with Western officials who have expressed concern about the country’s democratic slide.

The United States and European countries had asked the country to withdraw the proposed law due to its incompatibility with democratic values ​​and norms. Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili also opposed the bill and said she would veto it.

The legislation, which passed an initial vote on Tuesday, would require all non-governmental organizations and media groups that derive more than 20 percent of their revenue from abroad to register with the government as “agents of foreign influence “, subjecting them to additional scrutiny and opening them up. up to the possibility of harsh punishments.

Tens of thousands protested in Tbilisi demanding the withdrawal of the Russian-style law on ‘foreign agents’ and the release of those arrested during last night’s crackdown on yesterday’s rally

— Formula NEWS | English (@FormulaGe) March 8, 2023

Videos from local media on Wednesday showed tens of thousands of demonstrators chanting “No to Russian law!” with many people holding up EU flags. The demonstration turned violent as crowds clashed with police, injuring several on both sides.

More than 100 people were arrested, the Interior Ministry said on Thursday, adding that protesters smashed shop windows and set fire to cans on the street. Police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the protesters, footage showed. Human Rights Watch said it saw “no reason” to use force against “peaceful” protesters.

A recent poll shows a majority of the country supports membership of the European Union, but its application last year remains blocked. Georgia was required to pursue political reforms to be granted candidate status.

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