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Mass protests against Russian-style bill resume in Georgia as deputy minister resigns

Thousands continue taking to the streets in Tbilisi to protest against a law seen as undermining Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic prospects
Georgia protests EU Russia foreign agents
Protests against the “foreign agents” law in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi on 24 May 2024. Photo: Ezz Gaber
Mass protests against Russian-style bill resume in Georgia as deputy minister resigns

Massive marches against a Russian-style “law on foreign agents” have resumed in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, with thousands once again taking to the streets to protest the bill expected to bring Georgia, a candidate for EU membership, closer into Russia’s orbit.

The law, introduced by the ruling Georgian Dream party and adopted on 14 May, is criticized for opening an avenue to strangling civil society, as it happened in Russia. Its adoption was marked by record protests and has sparked condemnation from Georgia’s foreign partners, including the US, which has put forward initiatives to sanction officials responsible for the bill.

Yesterday, 24 May, thousands of Georgians marched to the Interior Ministry building in Tbilisi in solidarity with the roughly 200 protesters arrested earlier for protesting against the bill.

This march was followed by a protest of students and university teachers today. Following the adoption of the bill on 14 May, student groups from universities from across Georgia announced a strike in protest of the bill.

Today’s student march was preceded by an incident when Prime Minister Kobakhidze, scheduled to speak at Tbilisi State University, was met by a student protest and was therefore had to enter the university through another entrance. It is unclear who was inside the lecture hall, but some reports alleged it was filled by representatives of the youth wing of Georgia’s ruling Georgian Dream party. This youth wing was also reportedly engaged in a conflict with the students protesting the prime minister’s lecture at the university.

Also today, Georgia saw its first high-ranking government resignation related to the law. On 25 May, Deputy Minister of Finance of Georgia Mirza Gelashvili announced he was stepping down with the statement, “Georgia’s future is in Europe!”, implying his disagreement with the law.

Two days ago, Georgia’s Prosecutor General unexpectedly resigned as well, but he cited an “complicated health condition.”

The resignation comes ahead of possible sanctions on senior Georgian judicial and law enforcement officials by the US and an announcement of American travel restrictions against “those responsible for undermining democracy in Georgia.”

Georgia’s President Salome Zourabichvili, whose standoff with the ruling Georgian Dream party escalated into her labeling it the “Russian Dream,” has vetoed the bill, stating it should be completely revoked, but the veto is expected to be overridden in parliament.

The Venice Commission, a legal committee that checks compatibility with EU law, came to the same conclusion in a report – that the law stigmatizes civil society, has huge risks, and resembles legislation in Russia and Kyrgyzstan.

Get up to speed on why this is a pivotal moment for Georgia

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