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Clashes Erupt Between Police and Protesters at Georgia’s Foreign Agents Act Demonstrations

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Police and crowds of protesters continued to clash later on Wednesday over a controversial bill that critics say could stifle media freedom and civil society.

Police in Georgia’s capital used water cannon and tear gas to disperse demonstrators around the parliament building protesting the bill.

Lawmakers on Tuesday approved the first reading of the proposed law, which would require media outlets and NGOs that receive more than 20% of their funding from foreign sources to register as “foreign agents of influence.” More than 60 protesters outside parliament in Tbilisi were arrested after approval.

The measure is similar to one enacted in Russia in 2012 that has been used to shut down or discredit organizations critical of the government. Opponents believe that it is likely to impede Georgia’s declared intention to join NATO and the European Union one day.

A statement from Maria Kaljurand and Sven Mixer, two senior figures in relations with Georgia, said the bill “is in direct contradiction with the stated ambition of the Georgian authorities to obtain candidate status for EU membership”.

The statement added, “The aim of the new law, under the guise of enhancing transparency, is to stigmatize the work of civil society organizations and the media.”

Protest leaders on Wednesday called on demonstrators to prevent members of parliament from returning to the building until the measure is withdrawn.

It was scheduled to be discussed later Thursday, but local media reported that the debate has been put on hold.

Parliament Speaker Shalva Babuashvili on Wednesday demanded an assessment of the measure by the Vienna Committee on Constitutional Law of the Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights body.

While the President of Georgia, Salome Zurabishvili, has said she will veto the bill, its authors say it is necessary for the transparency of the work of entities funded by representatives of foreign countries. Parliament can override a presidential veto.

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