Georgia: Thousands Protest Despite Withdrawal of Repressive Bill
< p class="sc-v64krj-0 dlqbmr">Several tens of thousands of people gathered in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia.
Several tens of thousands of people gathered Thursday evening in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, after two days of protests and clashes with the police to denounce a repressive bill, which the government abandoned earlier in the day. /p>
President Salomé Zurabishvili, a pro-Western critic of her country's government, but whose powers are limited, hailed the victory of the demonstrators. I want to congratulate society on its first victory, I am proud of these people who made their voices heard, she said in a televised address from New York.
In the process, the Ministry of the Interior announced the release of demonstrators arrested since Tuesday, thus responding to one of the requests of the opposition.
Investigations are underway to determine, identify and arrest those who attacked the police, however the ministry said in a statement.
Among the crowd gathered on Thursday in downtown Tbilisi, many were waving Georgian, Ukrainian and EU flags. The Ode to Joy, the European anthem, was also sung.
Our government is our only obstacle to membership to the EU, says Eka Kamkamidze, a 39-year-old mathematician. Either they quit and Georgia joins Europe, or they stay in power and we fall prey to Putin.
The protesters, many of them students, were responding to calls from several opposition parties, despite the ruling Georgian Dream party earlier Thursday withdrawing a bill deemed repressive by its detractors. Georgia's opposition is scheduled to meet at noon on Friday, when parliament is due to officially withdraw the bill.
The Georgian government is accused of having wanted to introduce legislation inspired by the Russian model to classify as foreign agents NGOs and media receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad, under penalty of #x27;fine.
A former Soviet republic in the Caucasus, Georgia has been shaken for years by a political crisis symptomatic of its tension between Europe and Russia. Moscow and Tbilisi clashed in 2008 in a short war won by the Russian military.
Faced with the unrest in this neighboring country, the Kremlin expressed concern on Thursday, while denying any link with the bill on foreign agents. The Kremlin has absolutely nothing to do with it, its spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said, as protesters compare the Georgian draft with the law in Russia that serves to suppress all critical voices.
The European Union Delegation to Georgia has welcomed the announcement of the withdrawal of the text, urging the government to resume pro-European reforms.
In its statement, the Georgian Dream believes that the bill has been misrepresented in a bad light, adding that it will launch public consultations to better explain the purpose of this text.
These protests are part of a broader context of political crisis.
Tbilisi has official ambitions to join the EU and NATO, a direction taken after the Rose Revolution of 2003 which brought to power the pro-Western Mikheil Saakashvili, now an opponent and imprisoned.
But several recent moves by the current government, such as the Foreign Agents Bill, have cast doubt on whether pro-Western aspirations will continue, the opposition ;accusing of backing Moscow.
On Thursday evening, the United States said it welcomed the abandonment of the bill which goes against Euro-Atlantic values , while calling on the government to withdraw it completely. French President Emmanuel Macron congratulated himself that the attachment of Georgians to democratic values, freedom of the press and freedom of association, had been heard.
< p class="e-p">For Thomas de Waal, Caucasus specialist at the Carnegie Europe research center, the way Georgia emerges from the current crisis could be decisive for its future. This is an important moment for Georgia, which is still a democracy, but a struggling democracy, he said.