Georgian lawmakers withdraw 'foreign agents' bill after protests

AFP

Georgia's ruling party said on Thursday it was dropping a bill on "foreign agents" after two nights of violent protests against it amid criticism the draft was inspired by a Russian law and represented an authoritarian shift.

The Georgian Dream ruling party said in a statement it would "unconditionally withdraw the bill we supported without any reservations". It cited the need to reduce "confrontation" in society.

The bill would have required Georgian organisations receiving more than 20 per cent of their funding from abroad to register as "foreign agents" or face fines. Georgian Dream had previously said the law was necessary to unmask critics of the Georgian Orthodox Church, one of the country's most powerful institutions.

Opponents of the bill, including Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, who said she would veto it if it crossed her desk, have compared it to a 2012 Russian law, which has been used to clamp down on dissent. The Georgian government says the legislation is modelled on US foreign agent laws, in place since the 1930s.

The bill had angered supporters of Georgian membership in the European Union, after EU officials condemned the draft law, and said it would complicate Georgia's path to joining the bloc. Last year, the European Union declined to grant Georgia candidate status alongside Moldova and Ukraine, citing stalled political and judicial reforms.

Parliament gave it initial approval on Tuesday but tens of thousands of protesters then gathered outside parliament, and again on Wednesday. Some protesters threw petrol bombs, stones and plastic bottles at police. At least one window in the parliament building was broken, and a police car was overturned.

Police used tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon to disperse the crowds after several hours of protest. Georgia's interior ministry said 77 people were arrested during Tuesday's protest.

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