Georgia withdraws ‘foreign agents’ bill after protests

“It was a Russian law that had to be recalled and should not have gone through parliament under any conditions,” said Nika Oboladze, a 32-year-old Tbilisi resident.

“Those who proposed the law are responsible for all this mess. Because 90% of Georgians support European integration and nothing should stop that,” he added.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was “concerned” by events in Tbilisi, and said that the Georgian bill bore no relation to Russian laws.

“The Kremlin didn’t inspire anything there, the Kremlin has absolutely nothing to do with it. … If I understand it correctly, one version was very similar to an equivalent law in the United States,” Peskov said.

The European Union’s delegation to Georgia welcomed the decision to withdraw the bill, writing on Twitter: “We encourage all political leaders in Georgia to resume pro-EU reforms, in an inclusive & constructive way.”

Parliament gave the draft law initial approval on Tuesday but tens of thousands of protesters then gathered outside parliament, some throwing petrol bombs, stones and plastic bottles at police. The authorities said dozens were detained.

Police used tear gas, water cannon and stun grenades to break up a second night of protests on Wednesday.

The bill has deepened a rift between Georgian Dream, which has a parliamentary majority, and President Salome Zourabichvili, a pro-European who has moved away from the party since being elected with its support in 2018.

Zourabichvili had said she would veto the bill, though parliament can override her.

Georgia’s opposition has long criticized Georgian Dream for what it sees as excessive closeness to Moscow. Anti-Russian feeling runs high in Georgia over Moscow’s backing for separatists in two breakaway regions, which led to a short war between the two countries in 2008.

The bill had angered supporters of Georgian membership of the EU, after officials in Brussels condemned the draft law and said it would complicate Tbilisi’s path to joining the bloc.

Opinion polls show a consistent majority of Georgians in favor of joining the European Union and NATO. All major parties, including Georgian Dream, support the idea.

Last year, Brussels declined to grant Georgia E.U. candidate status alongside Moldova and Ukraine, citing stalled political and judicial reforms.

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