Thousands join fresh rally against Georgia 'foreign influence' bill

Massive rallies have gripped the Caucasus country since last month (Vano SHLAMOV)
Massive rallies have gripped the Caucasus country since last month (Vano SHLAMOV)

Thousands of Georgians protested on Friday in fresh rallies against a controversial "foreign influence" bill backed by the government but criticised for mirroring repressive Russian legislation, an AFP journalist saw.

Massive rallies have gripped the Caucasus country for almost a month after the ruling Georgian Dream party reintroduced the bill, although numbers were down on Friday compared to previous demonstrations that gathered tens of thousands of people.

Police have at times resorted to force to disperse gatherings, using tear gas and rubber bullets on Wednesday. The interior ministry said police arrested one person on Friday and 23 others the previous day.

On Friday, protesters gathered in front of the Paragraph hotel in Tbilisi belonging to the company of pro-Kremlin oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, where an Asian Development Bank forum attended by members of the government was taking place.

The demonstrators then headed to the Georgian Dream party headquarters, chanting: "We will not tire", "Georgia will win" and "No to the Russian government".

"We are heading to the Georgian Dream's headquarters to demand they free the young people arrested in recent days and to call on them to abandon the Russian law," said Data Nadaraia, a 24-year-old student.

The bill, which cleared its second reading in parliament on Wednesday, has come under fire from the European Union, United Nations and United States.

If adopted, the law would require that any independent NGO and media organisation receiving more than 20 percent of its funding from abroad register as an "organisation pursuing the interests of a foreign power".

Georgian Dream has defended the bill, saying it will increase transparency over NGOs' foreign funding.

Critics say it is mirroring Russian laws used to stifle dissent and will move Georgia away from joining the European Union. Opinion polls indicate the EU move is overwhelmingly supported by the population.