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Georgia: tear gas and rubber bullets against pro-EU demonstrators

Georgian police used force on Tuesday, using tear gas and rubber bullets against demonstrators who were protesting by the thousands in the capital Tbilisi for the third consecutive week against a controversial bill, noted an AFP journalist.

The Caucasus country has been gripped by massive anti-government protests since April 9, after the ruling Georgian Dream party reintroduced a bill on “foreign influence” deemed contrary to Tbilisi's aspirations to join the European Union (EU).

Masked riot police intervened, without warning, using tear gas and rubber bullets, striking and arresting dozens of people, according to an AFP journalist on site.

Several journalists were attacked, including an AFP photographer who was beaten with a rubber baton, even though he was clearly identified as a media professional.

MP Levan Khabeishvili, president of the United National Movement of imprisoned ex-president Mikheïl Saakashvili, the main opposition party, was violently beaten and had to receive care.

Local television channels broadcast images showing his face marked with beatings.

“J “Calls on the Minister of the Interior to immediately end the repression of peaceful assembly, the use of disproportionate force and violence against young people,” said Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, who is opposed to the ruling party.

Georgian Rights Defender Levan Iosseliani called for an investigation into the use of “disproportionate force” against protesters and journalists.

Georgia: tear gas and rubber bullets against pro-EU demonstrators

Police officers try to disperse demonstrators on May 1, 2024 in Tbilisi © AFP – Giorgi ARJEVANIDZE

The protesters gathered in front of Parliament demonstrated against the bill on “foreign influence”, considered repressive, until after midnight despite the water cannons and tear gas.

They blocked traffic in front of the Parliament on Rustaveli Avenue, the main artery of Tbilisi, as well as on several other important roads in the city.

“They are afraid because they see our determination,” 21-year-old demonstrator Natia Gabissonia told AFP on Tuesday evening in front of Parliament.

“We will not let them pass this Russian law and bury our European future,” she added.

– Second reading –

Georgian deputies debated on Tuesday in the second reading the bill that the ruling party hopes to pass by the mid-May.

Georgia: tear gas and rubber bullets against pro-EU demonstrators

A protester lies on the ground in front of police officers, April 30, 2024 in Tbilisi © AFP – Giorgi ARJEVANIDZE

The bill must undergo three readings in Parliament and be ratified by the presidency. The Georgian president is expected to veto the measure, but the ruling party has enough seats in parliament to override it.

According to its detractors, the project is inspired by the Russian law on “foreign agents” used to stifle dissenting voices.

The President of the European Council Charles Michel considered that the bill was not compatible with Georgia's desire to become a member of the European Union.

Protests also took place in the second Georgian city, Batumi, and in that of Kutaisi, according to the independent media Formula TV.

On Monday, several thousand people took part in a counter-demonstration organized in front of the Parliament by the Georgian Dream.

Georgia: tear gas and rubber bullets against pro-EU demonstrators

Riot police use gas to disperse demonstrators, April 30, 2024 in Tbilisi © AFP – Giorgi ARJEVANIDZE

Powerful billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, chairman of the ruling party considered the country's de facto leader, addressed the crowd on Monday. He defended the bill aimed, according to him, at strengthening transparency on foreign financing of associations, believing that “the non-transparent financing of NGOs is the main instrument for the appointment of a Georgian government from abroad”.

In the spring of 2023, the ruling party had to abandon a first attempt to pass the law, after massive protests.

In December, the EU granted the former Soviet republic the status of official candidate for membership of the Union, while warning it that it must notably reform its judicial system and its electoral system, strengthen freedom of the press and limit the power of the oligarchs, before the opening of negotiations.

All rights of reproduction and representation reserved. © (2024) Agence France-Presse

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116