Protests over ‘foreign interest’ bill expand in Georgia

Security forces and demonstrators clashed in Georgia’s capital on Wednesday night after the Eastern European nation’s parliament passed a controversial new law that sparked weeks of demonstrations.

The protests have been taking place since the ruling party, Georgian Dream, passed a bill in parliament early last month that the pro-Western opposition believes could be used to suppress dissent and thwart the country’s bid to join the European Union. people are taking to the streets. Tbilisi, the capital, night after night.

That number jumped Wednesday after Congress approved the bill with the second of three votes needed.

of bill It would require non-governmental organizations and media organizations that receive 20% or more of foreign funding to register as organizations that are “responsible for the interests of a foreign power” and to submit annual financial statements regarding their activities. . Violation will result in heavy fines.

The law is similar to a law enacted in Russia in 2012 that has been used to suppress anti-Kremlin advocacy groups and media outlets. Critics say one of the aims of the new bill, which they call the “Russia Law,” is to bring Georgia, a former Soviet nation of 3.6 million people, more closely aligned with Moscow.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday expressed “grave concern” over the situation and condemned the violence on Tbilisi’s streets.

“Georgians want a European future for their country,” she says. I wrote to X. “Georgia is at a crossroads. We should continue on the path to Europe.”

On Thursday, UN human rights chief Volker Türk said in a statement that he was also concerned about “reports of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officials” and urged Georgia to withdraw the bill. Ta.

The government, which has been led by Georgian Dream since 2012, says the bill aims to increase transparency in foreign funding and is modeled on government policy. american law laws dating back to 1938, and similar measures passed or proposed by other Western countries.

It tried to pass the law last year but withdrew it in the face of massive protests. The party appears determined to pass the bill through parliament, although lawmakers will likely have to override a veto from the country’s president, Salome Zurabichvili.

Zurabichvili, whose role in Georgia’s parliamentary system is largely ceremonial, was backed by Georgian Dream when he was elected in 2018, but has since become a fierce critic of the ruling party.

Marika Coachashvili contributed reporting.

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