Police fire teargas at protesters and MPs brawl as Georgia passes ‘foreign agents’ bill | Georgia

Riot police used teargas to disperse protesters outside Georgia’s parliament and MPs brawled inside as a “foreign agents” bill – condemned as a Kremlin-inspired act of repression – was passed into law.

The bill was backed by 84 MPs to 30 despite western pressure and the rolling protests that have brought hundreds of thousands of people on to the streets of the capital, Tbilisi.

A number of protesters were treated by medics after teargas was used on a noisy but seemingly peaceful crowd of a few thousand people, while squads of police dragged some individuals away.

The violence spread into the chamber, with a dozen MPs fighting and one MP, from the governing Georgian Dream party, being held back by security guards as he violently lurched at the chair of the main opposition, Levan Khabeishvili.

Under the legislation adopted on Tuesday, media or civil society groups in Georgia that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad will have to register as “organisations serving the interests of a foreign power”.

The US state department has called the bill “Kremlin-inspired”, as it has echoes of legislation introduced into the Russian statute books in 2012 by Vladimir Putin, which many people say has been used to silence critics.

The president of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili, has said she would veto the law, but the governing party has sufficient numbers in parliament to overrule her.

Georgia’s prime minister, Irakli Kobakhidze, earlier on Tuesday met the US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, Jim O’Brien, in Tbilisi to discuss Washington’s concerns.

The prime minister’s office said Kobakhidze had “explained to Jim O’Brien the need to adopt the law On Transparency of Foreign Influence” and reiterated the “readiness of the leadership team to carefully consider all legal comments of international partners within the framework of the veto procedure.”

Kobakhidze said on Monday that O’Brien had also requested a meeting with the billionaire oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, the honorary chair of the ruling Georgian Dream party, who is widely thought to drive government policy.

He said Ivanishvili – who made his fortune in Russia – rejected the request on the grounds that the US had frozen $2bn (£1.59bn) of his funds.

The European Commission on Tuesday restated its position that the new law would undermine Georgia’s application to join the European Union. “EU member countries are very clear that if this law is adopted it will be a serious obstacle for Georgia in its European perspective,” it said.

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Tina Bokuchava, parliamentary leader of the opposition United National Movement said: “Today’s vote will focus minds on the urgent need for regime change in Georgia. With elections to look forward to in October, I am confident that the unity seen on our streets in recent weeks will prove a watershed moment in our nation’s history.

“Our rightful place is in Europe – but the Ivanishvili stranglehold must be broken first if this dream is to be realised.”

On Monday, students from 30 Georgian universities joined the protests and went on strike, backed by lecturers.

Irakli Beradze, 22, a student in Tblisi, holding up a sign saying, “Russian can’t gaslight us, we have gas masks”, said that he and thousands of others “would not let Russia have our country”.

But in a speech on Tuesday, a Georgian Dream MP, Archil Talakvadze, called critics of the new law a “radical and anti-national political opposition united by political vendetta”.

“But nothing and nobody can stop the development of our country,” he added.

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