Georgian police dispersed with tear gas and water cannons tens of thousands of people who were demonstrating in Tbilisi on Wednesday evening against a bill targeting media and NGOs they believe was inspired by Russia, after clashes the day before during a first mobilization.
The police ordered the demonstrators gathered in front of the Parliament to disperse, then used gas and water cannons, according to an AFP journalist on the spot. A tense face to face reigned at the end of the evening.
Flags of Georgia and the European Union were waved by the demonstrators.
“No to Russian law!” Chanted the crowd gathered at the call of several NGOs and opposition groups, in reference to the bill adopted on Tuesday at first reading by the deputies of this small Caucasian country neighboring Russia. .
This text provides that organizations receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad are obliged to register as “foreign agents”, under penalty of a fine.
Its critics observe that this project is modeled on a law passed in Russia in 2012 and which the Kremlin has since used to suppress the media and critical voices.
“This law is absolutely unconstitutional and goes against the will of the Georgian people to become a member of the EU”, castigates Badri Okoujava, a young historian of 26 years.
Georgia, a former Soviet republic marked by a Russian military intervention in 2008, officially aims to join the EU and NATO, an orientation taken after the “rose revolution” of 2003 which brought to power the pro-Western Mikheil Saakashvili, now in detention. But several recent measures by the current government have cast doubt on the maintenance of these aspirations.
The figures for the number of demonstrators given by the police and the opposition were not immediately available, however.
The adoption of the bill on “foreign agents” at first reading had led to the gathering of thousands of opponents in Tbilisi on Tuesday evening, protests already dispersed with tear gas and water cannons.
The Georgian Interior Ministry said Wednesday that at least 77 people had been arrested and 50 policemen injured the day before.
On Tuesday, the opposition Girch party said in a statement that its leader, Zurab Japaridze, had been violently beaten by police and taken into custody.
The chairman of the ruling party, Georgian Dream, Irakli Kobakhidze denounced the action of “radicals”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave him his support in the evening for the “democratic” forces of Georgia. “There is not a Ukrainian who does not wish success to our friend Georgia. Democratic success. European success,” he said in his daily address.
In a sign of growing concern in the West, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Wednesday condemned the bill, calling it “incompatible” with EU values and the goal of joining the European block.
The United States called on Tbilisi to respect “freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration”, State Department spokesman Ned Price, reiterating the “concern” of the United States over this law.
Georgian President Salomé Zurabishvili – a former French diplomat with limited powers – called for the law to be “repealed”, promising to veto it.
This veto could however be overcome by the party in power, which controls more than half of the seats in Parliament.
According to Mr. Kobakhidze, the second and third reading of the text could however only take place after the opinion of the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe.
In recent years, Georgian authorities have faced growing international criticism over an alleged rollback of democracy that has damaged Tbilisi’s ties with Brussels.
Georgia formally submitted its candidacy for the EU with Ukraine and Moldova a few days after the Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory on February 24, 2022.
In June, the EU granted candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, but demanded that Georgia carry out several reforms before obtaining a similar status.
This article is originally published on nicematin.com