Georgian police deploy tear gas to disperse ‘Russian law’ protests

Dozens of people have been arrested in Georgia, and an opposition leader was seen bandaged and bruised, after police overnight used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the latest protest outside Parliament against a Bill accused of limiting media freedom.

Georgia’s Interior Ministry said 63 people were arrested on Tuesday in the demonstration against the law that would require media and non-commercial organisations to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of funding from abroad.

Thousands of demonstrators had gathered to oppose the legislation they see as impediments to Georgia’s long-sought prospects of joining the European Union.

During the latest rally against the Bill late on Tuesday, police broke up the protest after demonstrators tried to block the entrances to the parliament building to prevent politicians from leaving.

Despite the protests, the parliament endorsed the Bill in the first reading earlier this month.

Georgia Divisive Law
A demonstrator gestures while standing in front of the police line (Zurab Tsertsvadze/AP)

The Bill is similar to the one the ruling party was pressured to withdraw last year after large street protests.

The Bill requires non-commercial organisations and news media that receive 20% or more of their funding from overseas to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power.”

Georgian president Salome Zourabichvili has harshly criticised the Bill and vowed to veto it if it is passed by parliament.

Georgia Divisive Law
Riot police in Tbilisi (Zurab Tsertsvadze/AP)

On Wednesday, Georgian TV showed Levan Khabeishvili, chairman of the pro-West United National Movement party, arriving in Parliament with bandages on his nose and forehead. Members of Mr Khabeishvili’s party said he had been assaulted by police during the protests.

Purple bruising and cuts were visible around Mr Khabeishvili’s left eye as he urged fellow MPs to scrap the bill.

“If you are not interested in how the leader of the main opposition party has been beaten up, then — for the sake of those young people who were injured, who were hit on the heads and bruised — I want to ask you once more, even though I do not have any hope, withdraw this law,” he said.

Deputy interior minister Aleksandre Darakhvelidze alleged at a briefing that Mr Khabeishvili broke through a police cordon the night before and was injured while he “resisted”.

Mr Darakhvelidze alleged that protesters and opposition leaders were “constantly committing violence”.

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