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US, Ukraine throw weight behind Georgia protesters

US and Ukraine have supported Georgian protesters who again rallied in tens of thousands against a planned “foreign agent” law which critics said was reminiscent of Russian legislation used to silence critics.

Massive crowds gathered in front of the parliament building in central Tbilisi on Wednesday, holding EU and Georgian flags, and chanting “no to the Russian law”, according to an AFP news agency correspondent.

The protesters were 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 told AFP. “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.

“We want Europe! We want the West,” Tamuna Kirkhvadze, a 37-year-old economist, told AFP. “We want a bright future for our children and us.”

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.

Clashes ensued with police using tear gas and water cannon against the violent demonstrators.

Police said more than 70 demonstrators had been detained and 50 police officers wounded during the protests on Tuesday.

The ruling Georgian Dream party says the law is modelled on US legislation dating from the 1930s.

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.

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

‘Dark day for Georgia’s democracy’

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

The United States urged the government in Tbilisi to allow peaceful demonstrations as it voiced solidarity with mass protests.

“We urge the government of Georgia to respect the freedom of peaceful assembly and peaceful protests,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters, calling for “restraint” on all sides.

“We are standing with the people of Georgia and the aspirations that they have,” he added.

“We are concerned that the passage of this type of legislation would have consequences for our ability to continue to be the strategic partner that we have sought to be for Georgia and the people of Georgia over the course of decades,” he said.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for “democratic success” in Georgia.

“There is no Ukrainian who would not wish success to our friendly Georgia. Democratic success. European success,” Zelenskyy said in his evening address to the nation.

Georgia applied for EU membership together with Ukraine and Moldova days after Russia assaulted Ukraine in February last year.

In June, EU leaders granted formal candidate status to Kiev 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 percent of the population, according to opinion polls.

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