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A young demonstrator stands in front of police blocking the way to Georgia's parliament building Alamy Stock Photo

Riot police arrest protesters outside Georgian parliament over Russian-like 'foreign influence' law

Politicians came to blows in the parliament over the legislation that opposition members say mirrors Russian laws that silence dissent.


RIOT POLICE HAVE been deployed in Georgia to break up major protests after the country’s parliament adopted a controversial “foreign influence” law, arresting at least 13 demonstrators.

The legislation has sparked weeks of mass protests against the measure, denounced as mirroring Russian legislation used to silence dissent.

Lawmakers voted 84 to 30 to pass the law despite ongoing street protests outside the building and warnings from the EU that the move would undermine Georgia’s long-standing desire to join the bloc.

Altercations erupted between opposition and ruling party MPs, while outside, large numbers of demonstrators gathered in growing numbers for another day of protests against the bill.

Some protesters broke through steel barricades outside the parliament building in the capital.

Georgia’s interior ministry said 13 demonstrators were arrested for “disobeying police orders”.

The wife of prominent opposition activist David Katsarava said he was badly beaten by riot police after he was detained at the protest.

Tbilisi has seen three straight nights of mass rallies over the bill, which mirrors repressive laws introduced in Russia and has been condemned by the European Union and the United States.

Tens of thousands of people have protested in the country, a former Soviet republic, since the Georgian Dream party reintroduced the draft law over a month ago.

It replaces an earlier version that the government scrapped last year in the face of mass protests.

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze said this week that his government would push the bill through in a third and final reading today despite the rising tensions.

During a heated debate, ruling party and opposition lawmakers scuffled and traded blows, footage aired by Georgia’s public broadcaster showed.

“I hope there will be peace here,” 20-year-old Marta Doborianidze, one of the protesters, said.

Some protesters say their ultimate goal is to vote out Georgian Dream, which has been in power since 2012.

“We are waiting for when we will have a choice to choose a new government,” said 27-year-old hotel manager Peter, who declined to give his last name over fears for his security.

“These people in there don’t listen to us at all,” said teacher Mariam Javakhishvili, standing outside parliament with her son.

The 34-year-old said the ruling party lawmakers were undoing progress made since the collapse of the Soviet Union, adding: “I don’t want to let that happen for my kids.”

“I’m worried about police violence but I’m not scared of it.”

International condemnation

The move by the Georgia government has sparked a significant international response. 

The European Union warned Georgia earlier today that passing the law would hamper its bid to become a member state.

US Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called on Georgia’s president to veto the law, adding that if it takes effect “it will compel us to fundamentally reassess our relationship with Georgia”.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told AFP that he would be travelling to Georgia today together with his counterparts from Iceland, Estonia and Latvia to express “our concerns”.

UK Secretary of State for Defence, Grant Shapps, labelled the foreign influence law an act of “Russian interference in Georgia”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov hit back, accusing the West of “undisguised interference in Georgia’s internal affairs”.

© AFP 2024 

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