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Thousands march in Tbilisi to protest Georgia’s ‘foreign agents’ law

Georgian police have used tear gas and water cannon against protesters as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in the capital Tbilisi to oppose a controversial “foreign agents” bill.

At one point a protester opposed to the law that would impose registration requirements on media and NGOs with foreign ties threw a petrol bomb at a cordon of riot police on Tuesday, according to TV footage.

At least three petrol bombs, as well as stones, were thrown at police.

People suffering from the effects of tear gas were being treated on the steps outside the parliament building.

“I came here because I know that my country belongs to Europe, but my government doesn’t understand it,” said 30-year-old protester Demetre Shanshiashvili.

“We are here to protect our country because we don’t want to be part of Russia again,” he added, referring to the almost two centuries Georgia spent as part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union.

Late on Tuesday, police began mass detention of people protesting the bill after dispersing demonstration near parliament building, reports said. 

The law, backed by the ruling Georgian Dream party, would
require any organisations receiving more than 20 percent of their
funding from overseas to register as “foreign agents”, or face
substantial fines.

Critics have said it is reminiscent of a 2012 law in Russia
that has since been used to crack down on dissent.

Speaking in Berlin earlier on Tuesday, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Garibashvili reaffirmed his support for the law, saying the proposed provisions on foreign agents met “European and global standards”.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, who wants to veto
the law if it crosses her desk, said she was on the side of the

“You represent a free Georgia, a Georgia which sees its
future in the West, and won’t let anyone to take this future
away,” she said in an address recorded in the United States,
where she is on an official visit.

“Nobody needs this law … everyone who has voted for this
law has violated the constitution,” she said. 

though, can override her veto.

READ MORE: Georgians rally to demand government resignation over EU failure

Russian role in Georgia

Earlier, the law had comfortably passed its first
parliamentary reading, Georgian media outlets reported.

Some of the protesters gathered outside the parliament
building carried Georgian, European Union and US flags, and
shouted: “No to the Russian law”, and “You are Russian” at
politicians inside the legislature.

Moscow backed separatists in the breakaway Georgian regions of
Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the 1990s.

Hundreds of thousands
of Georgians remain internally displaced within the country
after several bouts of bloody ethnic conflict.

The United States was closely following developments in
Georgia, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters.

The ruling party, which says it wants Georgia to join the
European Union, has accused critics of the bill of opposing the
Georgian Orthodox Church, one of the country’s most respected
and influential institutions.

On Monday, a committee hearing on the law ended in a
physical brawl in parliament.

More than 60 civil society organisations and media outlets
have said they will not comply with the bill if it is signed
into law.

READ MORE: Georgians rally to support country’s bid for EU membership

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