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Georgia protests: Georgian police used water cannons and tear gas on thousands of protestors

Tbilisi: Georgian police used water cannons and tear gas on thousands of protestors on Wednesday, telling them to disperse as they gathered to oppose a proposed “foreign agent” law reminiscent of Russian legislation used to silence opponents.
Concerns are rising that the mountainous Caucasus republic, which aims to join the EU and NATO, is becoming authoritarian and bent to the whims of the ruling party.

A large crowd gathered in front of the parliament building in central Tbilisi, waving EU and Georgian flags and shouting “no to Russian law,” according to an AFP correspondent.

Protesters are demanding that authorities scrap the measure on “transparency of foreign funding,” which opponents believe is similar to a law used in Russia to shut down media and opposition groups.

Protesters marched through Tbilisi’s main avenue earlier Wednesday, with one banner stating “Women against total control” in honour of International Women’s Day.

Protesters were also out in force Tuesday, after lawmakers from the ruling party adopted the draft law on “foreign agents” in its first reading.

Clashes erupted, with police deploying tear gas and water cannons on the protesters.

During the protests on Tuesday, more than 70 people were arrested and 50 police officers were injured, according to authorities.

According to Tom de Waal, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe, both the bill and the crackdown pose a severe issue in the politically turbulent country.

“It’s a big moment for Georgia, still a democracy but definitely a struggling one,” he stated on Twitter.

In Russia, the Kremlin has frequently used the term “foreign agent” to describe opponents, journalists, and human rights activists who are suspected of engaging in foreign-funded political activities.

Georgian authorities have received rising international criticism for what seems to be a reversal in democratic principles, gravely damaging Tbilisi’s ties with Brussels.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has defended his “balanced” strategy as aimed at guaranteeing “peace and stability.”

In 2008, Russia and Georgia fought a five-day battle.

Georgian President Salome Zourabishvili has expressed solidarity with the demonstrators and promised to veto the legislation.

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