Protesters outside the Georgian Parliament building in Tbilisi on March 8, 2023.
Tbilisi – Tens of thousands of people gathered in front of the parliament building in the Georgian capital Tbilisi today to protest against the controversial law on foreign agents. This was reported by the AFP agency. According to the Georgian Interpressnews agency, the protest leaders gave the government an ultimatum to withdraw the norm and release those arrested from Tuesday's demonstration. Police used water cannons. According to critics, the bill, if passed, will move Georgia towards an authoritarian regime modeled after Russia.
Traffic on Rustaveli street, where the parliament is located, has been blocked by protesters with flags of Georgia and the European Union since the afternoon. Some protesters chanted the slogan: “No to Russian law!” A crowd later surrounded the legislature building.
“We are giving exactly one hour for Russian interests to make a statement that they will withdraw the law from parliament and release the people who were arrested yesterday (Tuesday). Otherwise, we will announce the next steps ,” said opposition leader Giorgi Vašadze, according to the Interpressnews agency. She also stated that the protesters were pounding on the bars at the entrance to the legislative assembly building. As on Tuesday, the police used water cannons.
On Tuesday, the government's majority in parliament approved the controversial law in the first reading. Already on Tuesday, thousands of opposition supporters gathered in front of the parliament, whose protest ended only after ten hours early this morning. Police detained 66 protesters who face punishment for rioting and disobeying police instructions, the Ministry of the Interior said.
According to the ministry, fifty law enforcement officers were injured during the clashes. Heavy troops repeatedly used tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons against the protesters, protesters threw cannons, firecrackers and also Molotov cocktails at the police.
The proposed standard would require organizations that raise more than 20 percent of their funding funds from abroad, registered as “foreign agents” and submitted to the control of the Ministry of Justice. Otherwise, they would face heavy fines.
Critics see the law on foreign agents as a shift in the Transcaucasian republic towards an authoritarian regime modeled after Russia, where a similar law has been in place since 2012. Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili has vowed to veto it because, she says, it threatens the country's hopes of joining the European Union and the North Atlantic Alliance. But the government's majority could override its veto.
The American embassy described the adoption of the law in the first reading as “a black day for Georgian democracy”. According to the head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell, the law is not compatible with the values of the European Union. Some EU states and Ukraine also joined in criticizing the standard today.
Zurabishvili already supported the protesters in a statement from the New York headquarters of the United Nations on Tuesday. At the same time, the president originally came from the ruling Georgian Dream party. “I am with you because today you embody a free Georgia,” she declared.
Critics say the Georgian dream is too close to Russia and that the country has moved towards authoritarianism in recent years. Georgian society is strongly anti-Moscow after years of conflicts with Russia over the Moscow-backed separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Reuters reminded.