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    Tens of thousands oppose ‘foreign agent’ bill in Georgia in second day of protests

    A protester waves the Georgian, Ukrainian and European flags during a demonstration called by Georgian opposition and civil society groups outside Georgia's Parliament in Tbilisi on March 8, 2023.

    Georgian police fired water and tear gas at thousands of protesters in Tbilisi on Wednesday, March 8, ordering them to disperse as they rallied against a planned “foreign agent” law reminiscent of Russian legislation used to silence critics.

    Concern is growing that the mountainous Caucasus republic, which aspires to join the European Union and NATO, is taking an authoritarian turn and being bent to the ruling party’s will.

    Massive crowds gathered in front of the parliament building in central Tbilisi for a second day of protests, holding EU and Georgian flags, and chanting “no to the Russian law”, according to an Agence France Presse witness.

    The protesters are demanding authorities drop the bill on “transparency of foreign funding,” which critics say mirrors a law used in Russia to force media and dissenting groups to shut down.

    Elene Ksovreli, 16, said Georgians did not want to see their future threatened. “We will not allow them to make Russia define our future,” she said. “We, young people, are here to protect our everything.”

    Another demonstrator, 72-year-old Aza Akhvlediani, called the country’s government “stupid.” “I know what’s happening in Moscow. They stop every passerby and do whatever they please to them. I think the Georgian government wants the same,” she said.

    Earlier on Wednesday, protesters marched down Tbilisi’s main thoroughfare, with one banner reading “Women against total control” in a nod to International Women’s Day.

    Protesters were also out on Tuesday after ruling party lawmakers approved the draft law on “foreign agents” in its first reading.



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    Clashes ensued with police using tear gas and water cannon against the demonstrators. Police said more than 70 demonstrators had been detained and 50 police officers injured during Tuesday’s protests.

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    In Russia, the Kremlin has extensively used the “foreign agent” label against opponents, journalists and human rights activists accused of leading foreign-funded political activities.

    Georgian authorities have faced mounting international criticism over a perceived backsliding on democracy, seriously damaging Tbilisi’s ties with Brussels.

    Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has defended his “balanced” policy as aimed at ensuring “peace and stability.”

    Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war in 2008.

    Georgian President Salome Zourabishvili has expressed support for the demonstrators and has vowed to veto the legislation.

    “Today is a dark day for Georgia’s democracy,” the United States embassy in Georgia said after the initial reading of the bill.

    Authorities said 76 people had been arrested for minor hooliganism and disobeying law enforcement following Tuesday’s clashes. One more person was held for attacking the police.

    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 said Tbilisi must implement a number of reforms first.

    Plans to join NATO and the EU are enshrined in Georgia’s constitution and are supported by at least 80% of the population, according to opinion polls.

    Georgia’s treatment of jailed ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili, whose health has drastically deteriorated in prison, has also drawn international condemnation.

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    In his evening address to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed support for the protesters: “There is no Ukrainian who would not wish success to our friendly Georgia. Democratic success. European success.”

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    The World with AFP

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