Lawmakers scuffle again in Georgia over ‘foreign agent’ bill

By Thomson Reuters Apr 29, 2024 | 10:56 AM

TBILISI (Reuters) – A female Georgian member of parliament hit a male colleague with a water bottle on Monday as tempers ran high during discussion of a contentious “foreign agents” law.

Video posted by local media showed opposition member of parliament Khatia Dekanoidze rapping Guram Macharashvili over the head with what appeared to be a plastic bottle as he shouted and wagged his finger at her.

Georgia faces more protests this week over the bill, which would force organisations receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as foreign agents.

Opponents have criticised it as Russian-inspired and authoritarian, while the governing Georgian Dream party said it is needed to ensure that funding of NGOs is transparent. The law is due to receive the second of three readings on Tuesday.

The European Union has repeatedly said the bill will jeopardise Georgia’s path towards EU membership. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman has said that Moscow has nothing to do with the legislation.

An official live broadcast of the session was shut off shortly after Monday’s incident, in which Macharashvili, a Georgian Dream MP, was unhurt. Local media said 14 opposition MPs were expelled from the meeting.

Georgian lawmakers came to blows during a previous debate earlier in the month.

A pro-government rally in support of the bill was set to take place outside parliament on Monday night, while an opposition protest was planned in a city park some three miles (5 km) away.

A senior ruling party official cited by local media said the party was helping its supporters with travel costs and transport to attend its demonstration, while insisting that they would only be there of their own volition.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, who opposes the law but whose post is mostly ceremonial, described the pro-government rally on social media site X as “a ‘Putintype’ action: civil servants ‘bused’ to Tbilisi to applaud (the)ruling party’s decisions”.

Central streets were choked with buses carrying the demonstrators, while screens and floodlights were set up every few hundred metres along the length of the main Rustaveli Avenue in preparation for the rally.

(Reporting by Felix Light in Tbilisi; Writing by Lucy Papachristou in London; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)