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Georgia passes controversial “foreign agents” bill

Georgia's parliament has passed a controversial “foreign agents” law, despite widespread domestic opposition and warnings from the European Union that its enactment would hinder the country's chances of joining the bloc.

The new law will require organizations that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as “agents of foreign influence” or face stiff fines. Opponents say the legislation builds on similar laws in Russia that the Kremlin has used to increasingly extinguish opposition and civil society.

The law was approved on Tuesday (14) by 84 legislators voting in favor and 30 against.

Many Georgians fear that the law on foreign agents will be used in the same way in their country. Georgia's parliament now has 10 days to send the bill to President Salome Zourabichvili, who has already voted to veto it. Zourabichvili has two weeks to do so, but parliament can override his objection with a simple majority.

The bill has become a cultural flashpoint in a country that, like Ukraine, is caught between Russia and Europe. Polls show that around 80% of Georgians want to join the EU, but Moscow's geopolitical orbit has proven difficult to break out of.

Georgia applied to join the bloc in 2022 and was granted candidate status in December, a move seen as an effort to reverse the former Soviet republic's trend toward Russia. a However, EU leaders made it clear that passing the law on foreign agents would jeopardize Georgia's chances of membership.

The United States also expressed concerns about the bill and the “democratic backsliding” in the country, which is located in the Caucasus Mountains, bordering Russia to the north and Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan to the south.

Georgian Dream, the ruling party that pushed the legislation, responded to the criticism, saying the measure will promote transparency and national sovereignty. But the party has long been suspected of harboring pro-Russian sympathies, especially given that its founder, billionaire former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, made his fortune in the Soviet Union.

The movement of the bill generated a feverish response, including in parliament, where fights and shouting broke out during the hours-long debate that preceded the law's approval on Tuesday. Similar scenes unfolded last month when an opposition lawmaker punched a prominent Georgian Dream member in the face, sparking a wider brawl.

Many anti-Russian and pro-European Georgians remain angry about Russia's 2008 invasion and the fact that the Kremlin still occupies about 20% of Georgia's internationally recognized territory – roughly the same proportion that Russia occupies in Ukraine.

Nightly protests have closed the capital, Tbilisi, for about a month. Around 50,000 people came out on Sunday (12) night in the city of 1 million inhabitants to demonstrate against what they called “Russian law”.

“It’s a Russian law. It is an exact duplicate of Putin's law that was adopted a few years ago and then supplemented to crush civil society,” Zourabichvili, the Georgian president and a long-time opponent of Georgian Dream, told CNN in an interview.

Levan Khabeishvili, a protester who was seriously injured after being beaten by police, told CNN that the law is yet another example of how Moscow tries to assert its authority in the region. A CNN reached out to authorities to get more information about why police used excessive force against him.

“We know that this law is dangerous for our future. It threatens our partnership with the West,” said Khabeishvili.

The Kremlin claimed the law was being used to “stir up anti-Russian sentiments.” Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on Tuesday that criticism of the bill amounted to “undisguised interference in Georgia’s internal affairs.”

Current Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze's office declined an interview request from CNN .

Source: CNN Brasil

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