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Georgian parliament passes ‘foreign agents’ law, sparking mass protests | Protest news

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Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Georgia after parliament passed a “foreign agents” law, despite widespread unrest in the country and warnings from the European Union and the United States.

The bill requires media and NGOs to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad. It is seen by many as influenced by similar legislation in Russia, which has been used to control the Kremlin’s political opponents and dissent.

On Tuesday, politicians voted 84 to 30 in favor during the bill’s third and final reading.

Protesters clashed with riot police on the street outside the parliament building in the center of the capital Tbilisi, where demonstrations have raged for the past month.

Clashes even broke out in the House as opposition MPs clashed with members of the ruling Georgian Dream party.

Georgian lawmakers fight
Georgian politicians fight during a parliament session in Tbilisi (Mtavari Channel via AP)

The draft will then go to President Salome Zourabichvili, who has said she will veto it, but her decision could be overridden by a new vote in parliament, which is controlled by Georgian Dream and its allies.

Critics say the bill is a symbol of the former Soviet republic’s growing closer to Russia in recent years.

About 2,000 mainly young protesters shouted ‘no to Russian law’ and gathered outside parliament ahead of the vote. Several thousand joined the rally in the evening after news spread that lawmakers had approved the measure.

Protesters later blocked traffic at a key intersection in central Tbilisi.

The Interior Ministry said 13 protesters were arrested for “disobeying police orders.”

The EU has said the law is “incompatible” with Georgia’s long-standing bid to join the 27-nation bloc.

Georgia was officially declared a candidate for the EU last year, and the bloc will decide in December whether to formally start accession negotiations, an unlikely prospect if the law comes into effect.

During a visit to Georgia, US Assistant Secretary of State Jim O’Brien said the US could impose “travel restrictions and financial sanctions against the individuals involved and their families” if the law is not brought into line with Western standards and of violence against peaceful demonstrators.

He also warned that some $390 million the US allocated to Georgia this year “would come under scrutiny if we are now seen as an adversary and not a partner.”

Georgian Dream has portrayed the protesters as violent gangs, urged them to join the EU and said the bill aims to increase transparency of NGO funding.

The controversy surrounding the bill comes five months ahead of parliamentary elections seen as a crucial democratic test for the Black Sea country.