Georgia: Thousands protest in Tbilisi against 'foreign agents' law | World News

The legislation appears to be modeled on the laws Vladimir Putin is using to crack down on the media and civic groups in Russia, says Sky's Dominic Waghorn.

From Dominic Waghorn, International Affairs Editor @DominicWaghorn

Monday, May 13, 2024, 5:46 a.m., United Kingdom

Tens of thousands of Georgians took to the streets in Tbilisi, sparking a week of sustained protests against a Putin-like new law that threatens press and civil freedoms.

Huge crowds lined both banks of the Kura River on Sunday, as well as the streets and parks beyond.

The demonstrators see their country at a crossroads.

They are against a new bill on “foreign agents” being pushed through Parliament, which will have a third and final reading today.

The bill would brand organizations with 20% or more foreign funding as “agents of foreign influence.”

The legislation appears to be modeled on laws used by Vladimir Putin to crack down on the media and civic groups in Russia.

If the new law is passed, it will be more difficult for Georgia to join the European Union – the dream of many Georgians, especially young ones.

Sunday evening was peaceful – in contrast to other recent protests where heavy-handed police operations and plainclothes thugs beat demonstrators.

But this morning Georgian security forces moved in shortly after dawn. Phalanxes of masked men sweep through streets and parks in front of Parliament.

They violently suppressed the demonstrators. We got caught up in the crush as they herded the crowd.

A woman screamed as the crowd pinned her to a post.

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Protesters had surrounded the parliament building throughout the night, barring lawmakers from entering in an attempt to prevent the passage of laws they said would set their country on the path to dictatorship and back into the arms of Moscow.

“They want to drag us back into autocracy, into the country where they have occupied us for too many years,” one protester told Sky News.

The police managed to clear an entrance to parliament.

One flank at a time, Interior Ministry security forces, backed by helmeted riot police and water cannon trucks, are engaged in a tense standoff with a colorful sea of ​​protesters at the corner of the parliament building.

Tens of thousands of people protested. Image: Reuters

The blue and green colors of Ukraine and the European Union contrast with the red and white tones of Georgia's national colors.

The protesters were peaceful, but the police were not. They have released snap squads to charge into the crowd.

Sky News witnessed masked security guards grabbing a man and punching him in the unprotected head.

The demonstrators' attempt to cut off parliament from MPs has failed, but their numbers are increasing.

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“We won’t give up,” one woman told us.

“We cannot allow them to take away our freedom.”

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The government was forced to shelve the law last year despite fierce opposition, but the ruling Georgian Dream party, seen by many as pro-Russian, is determined to see the law passed.

Anna Harden

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