Georgia police push protesters away ahead of ‘foreign agent’ bill debate, Russia’s TASS reports

By Thomson Reuters May 12, 2024 | 10:23 PM

(Reuters) – Georgia’s police have begun pushing away demonstrators who staged an all-night rally at parliament in Tbilisi ahead of a lawmakers’ debate of a “foreign agents” bill that has sparked a political crisis, Russia’s TASS news agency reported on Monday.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze vowed on Sunday to push ahead with the law, after opponents of the bill rallied in one of the largest protests seen since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Georgia’s opposition called on opponents of the bill to stage on all-night protest outside parliament to prevent lawmakers from entering on Monday, when they are due to begin debating the bill’s third reading.

TASS reported, citing witnesses, that the police have started to push the protesters away from the service entrances of the parliament building, leading to some scuffles.

The “foreign agents” bill requires organisations receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as agents of foreign influence or face fines.

Western countries and Georgia’s opposition denounce it as authoritarian and Russian-inspired. Critics liken it to Russia’s 2012 “foreign agent” law, which has been used to hound critics of Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin.

The dispute over the bill has come to be seen as key to whether Georgia, which has had traditionally warm relations with the West, continues its push for European Union and NATO membership, or instead builds ties with Russia.

The EU, which granted Georgia candidate status in December, has repeatedly said the bill could jeopardise Tbilisi’s further integration with the bloc.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne. Editing by Gerry Doyle)