Following two nights of protests in Tbilisi, Georgia’s ruling party has retracted a contentious “foreign influence bill”. However, opposition leaders have announced plans for further demonstrations on Thursday.
The announcement that the bill would be withdrawn came via the country’s public broadcaster, several hours after police clashed with some of the tens of thousands of protesters who had assembled outside the Georgian parliament building for a second consecutive night.
Executive Secretary of the opposition Droa party, Giga Lemonjala, expressed skepticism regarding the ruling party’s decision to retract the legislation. “We have a very sad experience that Georgian Dream has lied to the Georgian public several times,” he stated.
Lemonjala and other opposition leaders are calling for the bill to be officially canceled by parliament and for the immediate release of all detained during the protests. The demonstrations drew tens of thousands of participants and were prompted by fears that the bill would drive a wedge between Georgia and Europe.
Demonstrators in Georgia have witnessed brandishing flags of the European Union – which Georgia submitted an application to join last year – as well as flags of Ukraine, the United States, and their national flag.
The contentious bill stipulated that any organization receiving 20% or more of its annual income from foreign sources must register as “foreign agents” or face steep penalties. Human rights experts warn that this proposal could harm civil society and undermine Georgia’s democratic principles.
On Thursday, the Kremlin expressed apprehension over the situation in Georgia and advised Russian citizens to exercise caution. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov cautioned Russian nationals residing in neighboring countries to remain vigilant. When asked during a press conference if the Georgian bill was inspired by Russian law, Peskov denied any involvement and cited US legislation against “foreign agents.”
Critics have compared the proposed legislation to laws employed by Russia to stifle opposition and dissent. The European Union’s office in the former Soviet Republic hailed the decision to withdraw the bill.
The office released an official statement on Twitter, urging political leaders in Georgia to resume “pro-EU reforms” in a “constructive and inclusive” manner.
Social media footage from Wednesday’s protests showed some participants hurling stones at the parliament building’s windows and attempting to breach barricades, with police deploying tear gas and water cannons.
The Georgian Interior Ministry has reported detaining an additional 66 individuals in connection to the protests.
A statement from the Ministry asserted that protesters had engaged in disturbances throughout the night, violating public order and resisting law enforcement personnel.
The latest arrests bring the total number of individuals detained in relation to the Tuesday and Wednesday protests to 142.
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