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Georgia passes ‘foreign influence’ law despite protests, president’s veto and Western condemnation

Georgia passes 'foreign influence' law despite protests, president's veto and Western condemnation

The speaker of the Georgian Parliament signed the controversial “foreign influence” bill on Monday, despite widespread protests against it, Western condemnations and a presidential veto. The signing, seen as the final step before the law takes effect, comes a week after representatives passed the bill, which critics say is undemocratic and consistent with a law used by Russia to suppress opposition. .

Georgia adopted the controversial “foreign influence” law on Monday, despite massive protests against the law, Western condemnations and a veto by President Salome Zurabishvili.

Parliament approved the law last week, overriding the presidential veto, noting that its opponents point out that it is undemocratic and seen as identical to a law used by Russia to suppress the opposition.

European derailment and American sanctions

Brussels warned the move would derail the Black Sea country’s efforts to join the European Union, while the United States brandished measures to ban visas and impose sanctions on individuals based on the law.

Despite the warnings, Parliament Speaker Shalva Babuashvili signed the bill and said in a statement: “Today I signed the law on transparency of foreign influences, the main goal of which is to improve the sustainability of Georgia’s political, economic and social systems. »

His signature represents the last step before the law comes into force. It requires NGOs and media platforms that receive at least a fifth of their funding from abroad to register as “organizations pursuing the interests of an external power.”

The plan sparked massive daily protests that lasted nearly two months, during which police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters, beat them, and arrested them. The level of tension is increasing in this country located in the Caucasus region as the legislative elections scheduled for October approach.

The October elections, a “key test for democracy”

The elections are seen as a major test of democracy, more than three decades after Tbilisi gained independence with the fall of the Soviet Union.

On Monday, almost all Georgian opposition parties began signing the pro-European political charter presented by President Zurabishvili in a bid to form a united front ahead of the vote.

The French-born president gave a speech to the signatories at an evening ceremony, during which she said: “I think there is a clear choice. It’s a question of survival, of staying on the European path. » And publish Presidency website Photos of around twenty legislators signing the charter.

The signatories agreed to pursue wide-ranging electoral, judicial and police reforms through an interim multi-party government, if they win enough seats in parliament to secure a majority. The groups agreed to call early elections next year.

“Elections are a way to respect this charter, to bring us back to Europe,” Zurabishvili told lawmakers. The plan envisages the abolition of the law on “foreign influence” and many other laws adopted within the framework of the Georgian Dream, which, according to the opposition, “harm Georgia’s European path”.

Among the groups that signed the charter was the country’s main opposition force, the pro-Western United National Movement, led by imprisoned former president Mikheil Saakashvili. “Georgian voters expect the opposition to show unity in the run-up to the elections,” said Tina Bokochava, one of its leaders.

Human rights activists and media workers pledge to break the law

The “Georgian Dream” party is increasingly accused of pushing Georgia away from the West and putting it back into Russia’s orbit. However, the party stresses that it is committed to Georgia’s European aspirations and says the law will ensure “transparency” regarding Western-funded groups that it says are undermining the country’s sovereignty.

On the other hand, dozens of Georgian human rights organizations and media outlets have pledged not to respect the law and intend to challenge it in the country’s Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights. the man.

Georgian activists, independent journalists and opposition politicians have accused the government of waging a coordinated campaign of violence and threats against leaders of non-governmental organizations.

Georgia’s Constitution enshrines the country’s efforts to join the European Union, a move that opinion polls show has the support of more than 80 percent of the population.

Since December 2023, Georgia has been an official candidate for membership in the European Union. It also aspires to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

France 24/AFP

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