Georgian police disperse second day protests with water and tear gas

Riot police block a street to stop protesters outside the Georgian parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia, March 8, 2023. (Photo: AP)

Police in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, deployed tear gas, water cannons, and stun grenades late on Wednesday to disperse the second consecutive day of protests against a "foreign agents" law, which critics say represents a step toward authoritarianism.

Hundreds of police officers swarmed the streets surrounding the parliament to disperse the demonstrators. Unlike Tuesday night's violence, there was little evidence of protesters throwing petrol bombs or stones, but at least one police vehicle was overturned.

Tear gas poured down the central Rustaveli Road in Tbilisi, where the parliament is located, forcing at least some of the tens of thousands of protesters to flee.

The Interior Ministry reported that 77 individuals were detained following Tuesday's protests, which began when lawmakers adopted a first reading of a law mandating organizations receiving more than 20 per cent of their money from abroad to register as "foreign agents" or face hefty fines.

The ruling Georgian Dream party claims it is based on 1930s-era US legislation. Opponents, including President Salome Zourabichvili, argue that it resembles a law used by Russia to suppress dissent and could hurt Georgia's hopes of joining the European Union.

In an interview with CNN, Zourabichvili encouraged authorities to refrain from employing force and painted Georgia as a victim of an attack by Russia committed to preserving its dominance in the Caucasus.

She stated, "Clearly, Russia is not going to let go very easily, but Russia is losing its war in Ukraine," Georgia and Ukraine were once a part of the old Soviet Union, which Russia governed.

Last year, the EU rejected Tbilisi's bid to become a candidate for membership, citing the need to accelerate reforms in areas such as the rule of law.

the schism among the governing party

Wednesday afternoon, protests resumed with a march down Rustaveli Avenue to commemorate International Women's Day, a public holiday.

The journalist Mikheil Gvadzabia remarked, "It's obvious that more and more people realize that this is scary, and they should fight for their future,"

As dusk approached, people gathered before the parliament, stopping traffic while chanting "No to the Russian law" and waving Georgian, European Union, and Ukrainian flags.

"We cannot let our country become pro-Russian, or a Russian state, or undemocratic," software developer Vakhtang Berikashvili stated.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine complimented the Georgians for raising his country's flag, stating that it demonstrated respect.

"We intend to become a member of the European Union, and we will. We desire that Georgia join the European Union, and I am confident it will, "He stated in a video message.

Moreover, footage of minor protests in Batumi, Georgia's second-largest city, was shared online.

The proposed legislation has widened the breach between Georgian Dream, which holds a majority in parliament, and Zourabichvili, a pro-European who has distanced himself from the party since being elected with its backing in 2018.

She promises to veto the law if it hits her desk, but the legislature can override her veto.

According to critics, the Georgian Dream has taken the country in a more restrictive direction by bringing it too close to Russia. After years of struggle over the status of two breakaway regions supported by Russia, which erupted into war in 2008, Georgian society is vehemently anti-Moscow.

Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of Georgian Dream, stated on Wednesday that the law would aid in rooting out individuals acting against the interests of the nation and the influential Georgian Orthodox Church. He denounced the "radical opposition" in Georgia for inciting protestors.

Publish : 2023-03-09 11:15:00

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