Georgia’s ruling party has announced it will withdrawal of a controversial “foreign influence” bill following two nights of widespread protests in Tbilisi over fears it would drive a wedge between the Caucasian nation and Europe.
The announcement, carried by the country’s public broadcaster, was made hours after tens of thousands of people gathered outside the Georgian parliament for a second night of rallies, some clashing with police.
Protesters could be seen waving the flag of the European Union – which Georgia applied to join last year – and those of the United States and Ukraine, as well as the Georgian flag.
The controversial legislation would have required organizations receiving 20% or more of their annual income from abroad to register as “foreign agents” or face heavy fines – a proposal that rights experts warn will pose a chilling effect to civil society in the country and damage its democracy.
Critics said it resembled similar laws used by Russia to stifle dissent and political opposition and the announcement to shelve the bill was welcomed by the European Union’s office in the former Soviet Republic.
“We encourage all political leaders in GE (Georgia) to resume pro-EU reforms, in an inclusive & constructive way,” the office wrote on its official Twitter account.
Social media videos from Wednesday night showed some protesters throwing stones at the building’s windows and attempting to break a protective barrier, with police deploying water cannon and tear gas.
The Georgian Interior Ministry said it had arrested a further 66 people for their involvement in the protests.
“The participants of the rally violated the public order and law and order throughout the night at different locations and resisted the police officers,” the statement read.
The announcement brings the total number of people arrested in connection to the protests, which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday, to 142.
This is a breaking news story. More to come…