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EU warns Georgia over impact of ‘foreign agent’ law

The European Union has warned Georgia that the adoption of its ‘foreign agent’ law would negatively impact progress on the path to membership of the bloc.

“This is a very concerning development and the final adoption of this legislation would negatively impact Georgia’s progress on its EU path,” the EU’s diplomatic service said in a statement.

“This law is not in line with EU core norms and values,” it said.

“The proposed legislation would limit the capacity of civil society and media organisations to operate freely, could limit freedom of expression and unfairly stigmatise organisations that deliver benefits to the citizens of Georgia,” it said.

Georgia’s parliament has approved the first reading of the bill, which has provoked several days of protests by critics who see it as authoritarian and Russian-inspired, Georgian media reported.

Eighty-three out of 150 deputies voted in favour of the bill, while opposition MPs boycotted the vote. It must pass two more readings before becoming law.

The bill would require organisations receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as agents of foreign influence, and has been compared by critics to a law that Russia has used extensively to crack down on dissent.

Its fate is widely seen as a test of whether Georgia, 33 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, intends to pursue a path of integration with the West or move back closer towards Russia.

Yesterday, protesters clashed with riot police who used pepper spray to clear the area around parliament of thousands of demonstrators shouting slogans against what they call “the Russian law”.

Protesters and police clashed during demonstrations in Tiblisi last night

Opposition groups have called for more protests tonight.

Russia is widely disliked in the South Caucasus country of 3.7 million, which lost a brief war with Russia over the Moscow-backed breakaway territory of South Ossetia in 2008.

The United States, Britain and European countries have all warned against passing the bill. The EU, which gave Georgia candidate status in December, has said the draft law is incompatible with its values.

A woman speaks to police during protests outside parliament buildings in Tiblisi

The Kremlin said that it had nothing to do with the foreign agent bill, which it defended as a “normal practice”. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was being used by outside actors to stoke anti-Russian sentiment.

The ruling Georgian Dream party, which has faced accusations of authoritarianism and excessive closeness to Russia, says the bill is necessary to promote transparency and combat “pseudo-liberal values” imposed by foreigners.

The bill, which was initially introduced in March 2023 but shelved after two nights of violent protests, has increased divisions in an already deeply polarised Georgia.

A coalition of opposition groups, civil society, celebrities, and the country’s figurehead president have rallied against the ruling party to oppose it.

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