Georgia's opposition calls fresh protests over new law after clashes

Georgian opposition and civil society groups called for new protests Wednesday against government plans to introduce controversial "foreign agent" legislation, reminiscent of Russian legislation to pressure critics.

The calls came after more than sixty of people were detained and dozens of police officers wounded in violent clashes that broke out in the capital Tbilisi late Tuesday, amid fears of democratic backsliding in Georgia.

"Starting from 3:00 pm (1100 GMT), Georgians will start to gather on Rustaveli Avenue and that will continue every day," politician Nika Melia said.

Civil society groups called for protests outside parliament later Wednesday.

They are opposing a bill on the "transparency of foreign funding", which critics say resembles a Russian law against "foreign agents".

In Russia, the foreign agent label, which recalls the term "enemies of the people" of the Soviet era, has been used extensively by the authorities against political opponents, journalists and human rights activists accused of conducting foreign-funded political activities.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has defended his "balanced" Russia policy as aimed at ensuring "peace and stability".

After lawmakers gave initial backing for the draft law, thousands took to the streets on Tuesday.

Georgia's President Salome Zourabichvili expressed support for the demonstrators and vowed to veto the legislation.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protesters.

Demonstrators had "thrown various objects -- stones, inflammable and blunt objects... physically assaulted and resisted policemen," the interior ministry said.

- Molotov cocktails -

"Later, people started an organised attack on the parliament building, throwing so-called 'Molotov cocktails' and fireworks," the ministry said.

It added that 66 people has been arrested for minor hooliganism and disobeying law enforcement forces.

Up to 50 police officers were wounded in the clashes, the ministry added, with several still hospitalised.

"No matter how many times they disperse us, no matter how much gas they use, we will gather again and again, and there should be more and more of us," Melia was cited as saying in local media.

Melia is chairman of the United National Movement party of Georgia's jailed ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili.

Georgia's treatment of Saakashvili, whose health has drastically deteriorated in jail, has drawn international condemnation.

Late last month, European Union member states issued a formal diplomatic warning to Georgia's leaders over Saakashvili's health.

In recent years Georgian authorities have faced mounting international criticism over a perceived backsliding on democracy, seriously damaging Tbilisi's ties with Brussels.

Georgia applied for EU membership together with Ukraine and Moldova days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.

In June, EU leaders granted formal candidate status to Kyiv and Chisinau but said Tbilisi must implement a number of reforms first.

Plans to join NATO and the EU are enshrined in Georgia's constitution and are supported by at least 80 percent of the population, according to opinion polls.