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Thousands rally in Georgia as ‘foreign influence’ bill advances

Georgia says foiled Ukrainian plot to smuggle explosives to Russia
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Thousands of people rallied Sunday in the Georgia’s capital, demanding the government revoke a controversial “foreign influence” bill, which the EU has warned would undermine Tbilisi’s European aspirations.

The Black Sea Caucasus nation has been gripped by mass anti-government protests since mid-April, when the ruling Georgian Dream party reintroduced plans to pass a law that critics say resembles Russian legislation used to silence dissent.

The party had been forced to drop a similar measure a year earlier, following a massive wave of street protests that saw police use tear gas and water cannon against demonstrators.

Waving Georgian and EU flags, some 10,000 protesters rallied on Sunday evening in Tbilisi’s central Republic Square, pledging to stage a “European march” along the capital’s main thoroughfare towards the parliament.

The rally was initiated by around 100 Georgian rights groups and opposition parties, which had previously kept a low profile at the youth-dominated daily protests.

“The authorities, which have reintroduced the Russian bill, are going beyond the constitutional framework and changing the country’s orientation, betraying the unwavering will of the people,” the organisers said in a statement.

Georgia’s bid for membership of the EU and NATO is enshrined in its constitution and — according to opinion polls — supported by more than 80 percent of the population.

Georgian Dream insists it is staunchly pro-European and that the proposed law aims only to “boost transparency” of the foreign funding of NGOs.

But critics accuse it of steering the former Soviet republic toward closer ties with Russia.

“This law, as well as this government, are incompatible with Georgia’s historic choice to be an EU member,” the leader of the opposition Akhali party, Nika Gvaramia, told AFP at the protest.

EU chief Charles Michel has said the bill “is not consistent” with Georgia’s bid for EU membership and said it “will bring Georgia further away from the EU and not closer.”

In December, the EU granted Georgia official candidate status but said Tbilisi would have to reform its judicial and electoral systems, reduce political polarisation, improve press freedom and curtail the power of oligarchs before membership talks are formally launched.

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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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