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Georgia braces for protests against ‘foreign influence’ law

Georgia braced Monday for protests against a planned law mirroring a controversial Russian law on “foreign agents” that critics say could be used to silence and intimidate dissidents.

In a surprise announcement this month, the ruling Georgian Dream party said it intended to adopt the law next month.

A similar plan was dropped a year ago after mass protests.

Georgia has sought for years to deepen relations with the West but the current ruling party is accused of attempting to reconnect the former Soviet republic with Russia.

Opponents say the project mirrors the Kremlin law and undermines Georgia’s bid for European Union membership.

Ahead of a rally planned for Monday evening, some protesters gathered outside parliament shouting: “No to the Russian law!”.

They rolled out a giant EU flag outside parliament.

“Georgia’s society is strong enough not to allow the country to slide into Russian-styled authoritarianism,” Saba Gotua, an architect, said.

“We will not let Georgian Dream waste Georgia’s historic chance to become an EU member.”

Monday’s protests come as the parliamentary legal affairs committee began hearings on the proposed law, which ruling party MPs say ensures “transparency.”

Georgian Dream said it had changed the wording of the law with foreign-funded NGOs, media organisations and independent journalists having to register as an “organisation pursuing the interests of a foreign power” instead of an “agent of foreign influence”.

Last week, around 8,000 people staged a rally in central Tbilisi, following the ruling party’s surprise announcement of its intention to pass the bill in May.

The move is likely to further fuel deep divisions in Georgia, whose staunchly pro-Western president Salome Zurabishvili has condemned the move as damaging democracy.

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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