Georgia protests: Thousands clash with police over Russia-style law against ‘foreign agents’

Demonstrators in Georgia defied a police crackdown on Wednesday to protest against a law limiting “foreign agents” that echoes restrictions imposed in Russia.

Teargas, stun grenades and a water cannon were used to break up crowds outside the Georgian parliament late on Tuesday, and 66 people were arrested after clashes.

The law, which has received initial approval, would require media outlets and rights groups that receive more than 20 per cent of their funding from foreign sources to register as “agents of foreign influence”.

International organisations have voiced concern over the draft law, saying it goes against the democratic development of the former Soviet state.

Critics say it is reminiscent of a law passed in Russia in 2012 that is often used to shut down organisations and news outlets that report voices critical of the government.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the draft law is a “very bad development” that could affect Georgia’s ties with the EU.

Riot police spray teargas towards a protester in Tbilisi (AFP via Getty)
Riot police spray teargas towards a protester in Tbilisi (AFP via Getty)

However, Georgia’s prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili, insists it meets “European and global standards”.

The country’s president, Salome Zourabichvili, has said she will veto the law if it crosses her desk, and that she is on the side of the protesters. “You represent a free Georgia, a Georgia which sees its future in the West, and won’t let anyone take this future away,” she said.

Thousands have gathered outside the parliament building in Tbilisi over recent days, waving EU and Ukrainian flags. Some shouted “No to the Russian law!”

Late on Tuesday night, protesters angrily remonstrated with police armed with riot shields. At least three petrol bombs, as well as stones, were thrown at police.

Russia is viewed as an enemy by many Georgians, after Moscow backed separatists in the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the 1990s.

Khatia Dekanoidze, a member of the opposition National Movement Rally, told parliament: “Everyone should understand that saving our country, saving our young generation, saving our future lies only through the European path.”

Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report