Police Use Tear Gas, Water Cannon Against Georgia Pro-EU Protesters

Tbilisi, (APP – UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News – 1st May, 2024) Georgian police on Tuesday deployed tear gas and water cannon against thousands of protesters who rallied for a third week against a controversial “foreign influence” bill an AFP reporter saw.

The Black Sea Caucasus nation has been gripped by mass anti-government protests since April 9, after the ruling Georgian Dream party reintroduced plans to pass a law, which Brussels has denounced as undermining Tbilisi‘s EU aspirations.

On Monday evening, masked riot police violently rushed the peaceful rally, using tear gas and water cannon while beating and arresting scores of people protesting against the bill.

Several journalists were attacked, including an AFP photographer who was beaten with a rubber baton, despite being clearly identified as a member of the media.

“I call on the interior minister to immediately stop the crackdown on the peaceful rally, the use of disproportionate force, the violence against barehanded youth,” Georgia‘s President Salome Zurabishvili — who is at loggerheads with the ruling party — said in a statement.

The rally continued past midnight, with defiant protesters blocking traffic outside parliament on Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi‘s main thoroughfare.

Demonstrators also blocked traffic at several other key transport arteries across the city, independent tv station, Pirveli, reported.

Tuesday’s demonstration marked three weeks of daily youth-dominated rallies against the measure, which critics say resembles Russian legislation used to silence dissent.

“They are scared because they see our resolve,” one of the protesters, 21-year-old Natia Gabisonia, told AFP. “We will not let them pass this Russian law and bury our European future.”

MPs were debating the draft law’s second reading on Tuesday, with the ruling party aiming to adopt it in mid-May.

The bill needs to pass three readings in parliament and a presidential signature to become law.

Georgia‘s president is widely expected to veto the measure, but the ruling party has enough seats to override the veto in parliament.

EU chief Charles Michel has said the bill “is not consistent with Georgia‘s bid for EU membership” and that it “will bring Georgia further away from the EU and not closer.”

On Monday, Georgian Dream bussed thousands of people to the capital for a counter rally held amid widespread reports that government employees were being forced to attend.

In a rare public appearance, powerful billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili — the ruling party chairman who is widely believed to be calling the shots in Georgia — addressed the crowd.

He defended the bill as aiming to boost transparency of the foreign funding of civil groups, saying that “non-transparent funding of NGOs is the main instrument for the appointment of a Georgian government from abroad”.

On Sunday, some 20,000 demonstrators staged a kilometre-long “March for Europe” in the capital Tbilisi.

Similar rallies were held across the country, including in Georgia‘s second-largest city of Batumi and the main city of the western Imereti region, Kutaisi.

Last year, Georgian Dream was forced to drop the measure following mass street protests that saw police use tear gas and water cannon against demonstrators.

Georgia has sought for years to deepen relations with the West, but the current ruling party has been accused of attempting to steer the former Soviet republic closer to Russia.

In December, the EU granted Georgia official candidate status but said Tbilisi would have to reform its judicial and electoral systems, reduce political polarisation, improve press freedom and curtail the power of oligarchs before membership talks are formally launched.

Georgia‘s bid for membership of the EU and NATO is enshrined in its constitution and — according to opinion polls — supported by more than 80 percent of the population.


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