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Foreign Policy

In Georgia, 20,000 people demonstrate against the law on “foreign influence”

In Georgia, the contested law on “foreign influence” reached a major legislative milestone on Wednesday April 17. The adoption at first reading of this text, compared to the repressive Russian legislation on “foreign agents”, provoked the anger of some 20,000 people, who came out to demonstrate in the capital Tbilisi.

The bill, which has sparked massive rallies since the start of the week, received the backing of deputies from the ruling Georgian Dream party during a vote boycotted by the opposition.

Two other readings should follow, a process which could take weeks, especially since Georgian President Salomé Zourabichvili, pro-European and in conflict with the government, could then veto. The deputies close to power, however, have a sufficient majority to overcome it.

According to its detractors, this legislation is repressive and could threaten the rapprochement of Georgia, a former Soviet republic, with the European Union.

In the evening, around 20,000 people gathered outside Parliament, blocking the capital’s main thoroughfare in the face of hundreds of riot police, before marching towards the Prime Minister’s offices to demand that he come to them. meeting, noted an AFP journalist.

“No to Russian law!”, proclaimed the participants, while the notes of the Georgian national anthem and the Ode to Joy, one of the symbols of Europe, rang out.

The text is compared to Russian legislation on “foreign agents” used by the Kremlin since 2014 to persecute dissident voices, NGOs and independent media.

Obstacle to membership

“It’s a sad day for Georgia because our government has taken another step towards Russia and away from Europe,” said a demonstrator, Makvala Naskidashvili.

“But I am also happy to see such unity among the youth,” added this 88-year-old woman. These young people “are proud Europeans and will not let anyone spoil their European dream.”

Rallies also took place in several other cities across the country, including the second Batumi, according to the Interpress news agency.

On Monday and Tuesday, other protests were organized. Riot police chased some protesters through the streets around Parliament, brutalizing or arresting some. Georgian media assured that their journalists had also been mishandled by the police.

If the bill passes, organizations that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad will be required to register as “organizations pursuing the interests of a foreign power”, or face fines. .

The EU, which granted Georgia candidate status in December, called for the text to be abandoned, saying it goes against the reform program that this country must undertake to progress on the path to independence. membership.

The head of EU diplomacy Josep Borrell and the European Commissioner for Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi said Wednesday’s vote was “very worrying”.

“A final adoption of this legislation would have negative consequences” regarding Georgia’s European ambitions, they said, considering that such a law was “not aligned” with EU values. Washington has expressed similar concerns.

Unfounded criticism?

The Georgian government assures that the text only aims for more “transparency” in the financing of organizations. Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, who initiated the bill, accused some civil society groups of trying to involve Georgia in the war in Ukraine and of wanting to start a revolution.

“Forward, with dignity, towards Europe!”, he said, while ensuring that Western leaders criticize this text without putting forward any arguments. Despite hostile declarations to the West, Irakli Kobakhidze said that membership in NATO and the European Union would be his priority.

Legislative elections, seen as a test, are planned in the country in October. For her part, President Zourabichvili considered that the measure went against “the will of the population”. “This is a direct provocation, a Russian strategy of destabilization,” she said.

On Monday, deputies from the government and the opposition came to blows during an exchange on the text, causing a fight in the chamber. A first version of this bill was abandoned in March 2023 after massive demonstrations which were dispersed by the police.

This article is originally published on france24.com

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