Georgia police crack down on protest against ‘foreign influence’ bill | News

The crackdown in Tbilisi comes after lawmakers debated a controversial bill on foreign funding.

Police in Georgia have used tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters as thousands rallied outside parliament in Tbilisi for a third week to oppose a controversial “foreign influence” bill.

Masked riot police violently cracked down on the rally on Tuesday beating and arresting many people protesting against the bill, which Brussels has denounced as undermining Georgia’s aspirations to join the European Union.

Lawmakers earlier debated the controversial legislation, which would require organisations receiving more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents”.

The parliamentary session ended without a vote and the debate was set to resume on Wednesday.

The proposed legislation has deepened divisions between the governing Georgian Dream party and the protest movement backed by opposition groups, civil society, celebrities and Georgia’s President Salome Zurabishvili.

Georgian Dream holds a commanding majority in the legislature, allowing it to pass laws and to vote down a presidential veto without needing the support of any opposition legislators.

Critics have labelled the bill “the Russian law”, comparing it to Moscow’s “foreign agent” legislation, which has been used to crack down on dissent there.

Russia is disliked by many Georgians for its support of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia lost a brief war with Russia in 2008.

The United States, United Kingdom and the EU, which granted Georgia candidate status in December, have criticised the bill. President of the European Council Charles Michel has said the bill “is not consistent” with Georgia’s bid for EU membership and “will bring Georgia further away from the EU and not closer”.

Tina Khidasheli, who served as Georgian defence minister in a Georgian Dream-led government in 2015-2016, attended Tuesday’s protest against her former government colleagues and said she expected the demonstrators to win eventually.

“The government is just prolonging the inevitable. We might have serious problems, but at the end of the day, the people will go home with victory,” Khidasheli told the Reuters news agency.

On Monday, a government-organised rally in support of the bill was attended by tens of thousands, many of whom had been bussed in from provincial towns by the governing party.

Punches were thrown last month in the hallways of parliament in Tblisi during discussions about the controversial new law.

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