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Georgians rally even as ‘foreign agent’ bill scrapped

TBILISI: Hundreds of anti-government protesters rallied outside Georgia’s parliament on Friday as lawmakers officially withdrew laws reminiscent of Kremlin-drafted rules used to stifle dissent that had sparked days of protests.

The mood was festive outside of the legislature, when throngs of Georgians blew whistle against the legislation, waved their red and white flag and held up signs reading ‘We are Europe’.

The protests reflect internal unrest over Georgia’s geopolitical fate, which aims to join the EU and NATO but maintain strained ties with Russia even after a 2008 invasion.

Georgian lawmakers rejected the bill on a second reading on Friday after just one of 36 lawmakers backed the bill, which critics compared to Russian laws that put pressure on civil society.

“It’s a win. We won thanks to our unity,” said one of the demonstrators in front of the parliament, 21-year-old student Irina Shurgaia.

“The whole world has seen that Georgians are united in their determination to be part of the European family,” she told AFP.

Protesters clashed with police on Tuesday and Wednesday, and police fired water cannons and tear gas to disperse the large-scale demonstrations.

The ruling Georgian Dream party gave in under pressure and announced Thursday it would drop the law.

But opposition parties said their protests would continue anyway, saying there were no guarantees “that Georgia is firmly on a pro-Western course”.

Concerns that the Georgian government is flirting with the Kremlin and pushing the Black Sea nation onto an authoritarian course have grown.

“Anti-Russian” sentiment

President Salome Zurabishvili sent a message of support to the protesters and congratulated them on their “first victory”.

“There is distrust of the government as we pursue our European path,” she said in a televised address from New York late Thursday.

But the Kremlin on Friday criticized the president for releasing her remarks from the United States and accused a third party of stoking “anti-Russian” sentiment in the ex-Soviet republic.

“We see where the President of Georgia is speaking to his people from,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

He said that for Moscow the protests are a domestic problem in Georgia and that the divisive law in Georgia actually reflects US legislation, not Russian.

The European Union, the United States and France welcomed the Georgian government’s dropping of the bill.

The bloc urged Georgia to implement reforms the EU has proposed as a condition of granting the Black Sea nation candidate status.

French President Emmanuel Macron said pro-European Georgia “can count on France”.

“Georgians’ commitment to democratic values, freedom of the press and freedom of association was heard,” Macron tweeted.

The Georgian authorities are facing increasing international criticism over a perceived backslide to democracy that is seriously damaging Tbilisi’s relations with Brussels.

The ruling party has insisted that it remains committed to Georgia’s bid for EU and NATO membership, which is enshrined in the constitution and has 80% support, according to opinion polls.

Georgia, along with Ukraine and Moldova, applied for EU membership just days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Last June, EU leaders granted Kiev and Chisinau formal candidate status but said Tbilisi needed to implement reforms first.

Source: Crypto News Deutsch

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