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Protesters smash barriers at Georgia’s parliament

Protesters have smashed barriers at Georgia’s parliament after it approved the divisive “foreign agents” bill.

Riot police are spraying crowds of people with water cannons as they enter the grounds of the Georgian parliament.

Tear gas is also being used by the authorities as weeks-long mass protests opposing the divisive legislation continue.

The legislation is seen by some as threatening press and civic freedoms and there are concerns it’s modelled on laws used by President Vladimir Putin in neighbouring Russia.

The proposed law would require media and nongovernmental organisations and other non-profit groups to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of funding from abroad.

Demonstrations engulfed the country for weeks ahead of the final reading of the bill on Tuesday.

A protester wearing a Georgian and European flag faces off policemen blocking a street during a rally against the 'foreign bill'. Pic: David Mdzinarishvili/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Image:
A protester wearing a Georgian and European flag faces off policemen blocking a street during a rally against the ‘foreign agents bill’. Pic: David Mdzinarishvili/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Critics see it as a threat to democratic freedoms and the country’s aspirations to join the European Union.

The bill is nearly identical to one that the governing Georgian Dream party was pressured to withdraw last year after street protests.

Pic: Reuters
Demonstrators gather at the fence protecting the gates of the parliament building during a rally to protest against a bill on "foreign agents" in Tbilisi, Georgia May 14, 2024. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze
Image:
Demonstrators gather at the fence protecting the gates of the parliament building during a protest against a divisive bill. Pic: Reuters

The opposition has denounced it as “the Russian law” because Moscow uses similar legislation to stigmatise independent news media and organisations critical of the Kremlin.

Opponents say the bill is a sign of Moscow’s apparent influence over Georgia and will make joining the EU harder.

Dominic Waghorn, international affairs editor in Tbilisi, Georgia

It’s a pretty febrile atmosphere, as you can sense… a sense of intended violence, a real sense anger, frustration and massive disappointment that the MPs did vote for this bill.

They’ve prized open these barricades, outside the Georgian parliament and beyond that, there’s assort of archway area, and then beyond that there are more gates, so even if they get through here, there is still a gate for them to get through before they do anything like storming the parliament.

I think what they’re doing at the moment is really just expressing their anger and having gained some kind of access they are not going through it yet.

But they are showing their anger and outrage at this Foreign Agents Bill, or Russian law, being passed by the parliament. And I think they’re trying to work out what they do about it.

They’re trying to tear apart this barrier, but they’re not, so far, going beyond that, to get into the building itself. So we’ll have to see how the police respond.

From what we’re seeing through the holes in this barrier, the police are looking rather bemused, slightly bewildered and trying to work out their next move. No sign of riot police and no riot shields or helmets.

They’re standing there waiting to see what the crowd does next.

A brawl erupted in the parliament as lawmakers were debating the bill on Tuesday.

Georgian Dream MP Dimitry Samkharadze was seen charging toward Levan Khabeishvili, the chairman of main opposition party United National Movement, after Khabeishvili accused him of organising mobs to beat up opposition supporters.

Georgia bill is 'absolutely insane'
Image:
The bill is ‘absolutely insane’, one protester said

Police try to detain demonstrators near the Parliament building during an opposition protest against "the Russian law" in the center of Tbilisi, Georgia, on Monday, May 13, 2024. Daily protests are continuing against a proposed bill that critics say would stifle media freedom and obstruct the country's bid to join the European Union. (AP Photo/Zurab Tsertsvadze)
Image:
Police try to detain demonstrators near the Parliament building during an opposition protest on Monday. Pic: AP

‘Absolutely insane’

A protester told Sky News’ Dominic Waghorn it is “absolutely insane that a country like Georgia has accepted this bill as it’s a complete violation for our future”.

The medical student said the bill “makes us more far away from Europe and the rest of the world”, while bringing Georgia closer to the Russian government.


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Another protester outside parliament in the capital city of Tbilisi said: “Our government is a Russian government, we don’t want Russia, Russia is never the way, I’m Georgian and therefore I am European.”

One demonstrator added they had been trying to protest “peacefully” but were now “feeling anger, pain and disappointment that again in our history there is a government that goes against our wishes”.

The president of the European Parliament has shown support for the Georgian people in a post on social media.

“Tbilisi, we hear you! We see you!” she says.

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