Tense standoff on streets of Tbilisi as protesters try to block MPs from entering parliament

Tens of thousands of Georgians took to the streets of Tbilisi, kicking off a week of rolling protests against a Putinesque new law threatening press and civic freedoms.

Massive crowds lined both embankments of the Kura River and the streets and parks beyond.

The demonstrators see their country at a crossroads.

They oppose a new “foreign agents” bill being pushed through parliament.

The law would brand organisations with 20% or more of funding from abroad as “agents of foreign influence”.

The legislation seems modelled on laws used by Vladimir Putin to crack down on the media and civic groups in Russia.

The country seems to be at an inflection point.

If passed, the new law will make it harder for Georgia to join the European Union – the dream of many Georgians, especially the young.

The US government says it is deeply concerned about democracy backsliding in the Caucasian country.

Demonstrators in Tbilisi. Pic: Reuters
Tens of thousands of people protested. Pic: Reuters

The government was forced to shelve the law last year in the face of bitter opposition but the Georgian Dream ruling party, regarded by many as pro-Russian, is determined to see it passed.

In chaotic scenes that saw lawmakers brawling in parliament, MPs have voted for it twice and it faces a third and final reading on Friday.

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Protesters are determined to stop that happening.

They aim to surround the parliament and prevent MPs from meeting to vote for the bill.

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The evening passed off peacefully – unlike other recent protests that have seen heavy-handed policing and plain clothes thugs beating up demonstrators.

Civil rights activists say they have been targeted by goons outside their homes in what appears to be a campaign of intimidation ahead of what is expected to be a tumultuous week of protest.

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