Russian law’: Georgians protest ‘foreign agents’ bill

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Police in the Georgian capital Tbilisi have fired water cannons and tear gas to disperse crowds protesting against a proposed “foreign agents” law that is reminiscent of a Russian measure used to silence critics.

Hundreds of police converged on streets around Georgia’s parliament building late on Wednesday night in a bid to break up the protests. Thousands gathered there for a second day, holding Georgian and European Union flags and chanting “no to the Russian law”.

Tear gas billowed down Tbilisi’s central Rustaveli Avenue, where parliament is located, forcing at least some of the demonstrators to move away.

The protesters are demanding authorities drop the bill on “transparency of foreign funding”, which requires any organisations receiving more than 20 percent of their funding from overseas to register as “foreign agents” or face substantial fines.

The ruling Georgian Dream party says it is modelled on legislation in the United States that dates from the 1930s. Critics, including President Salome Zourabichvili, say it is similar to a law Russia enacted in 2012 that has been used to shut down or discredit organisations critical of the government and could harm Georgia’s chances of EU membership.

Protesters in Tbilisi brandish placards and a European Union flag

Georgia applied for EU membership together with Ukraine and Moldova days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.

In June, EU leaders granted formal candidate status to Kyiv and Chisinau but told Tbilisi it had to implement several reforms before it could be considered.

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Thousands of people have been massing for days in Tbilisi to protest against the law and clashes broke out on Tuesday after legislators approved the measure in its first reading. Police used tear gas and water cannon against the demonstrators and said more than 70 people had been detained. Some 50 police officers were also wounded, they said.

The protests restarted on Wednesday afternoon with a march down Rustaveli Avenue to mark International Women’s Day, which is a public holiday.

“We cannot let our country become pro-Russian or a Russian state, or undemocratic,” said Vakhtang Berikashvili, a 33-year-old software engineer.

Riot police block a street to stop protesters outside the Georgian parliament building in Tbilisi

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