Protesters try to storm parliament in Georgia over 'Russian-inspired' law

One minute, a protest in Georgia against a Russian-inspired ‘foreign agents’ law appeared peaceful.

The next, Molotov cocktails, fireworks and stones were hurled at police in Tbilisi, where demonstrators clashed with officers this evening.

Police in the centre of the capital used water cannons and tear gas in attempting to disperse the crowds, who fear the draft law could hurt the former Soviet state’s hopes of European Union membership.

As lawmakers voted, thousands gathered in front of Parliament, blocking Rustaveli Avenue and disrupting traffic.

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Some were shouting, ‘Down with the Russian law’ and ‘You are Russian’.

Police armed with riot gear and shields were deployed to the scene, and did not hold back.

They were seen targeting a lone protester waving an EU flag with a water cannon.

People hit with tear gas were being treated on the steps outside the parliament building, while those on the ground stressed the situation is ‘escalating’.

‘I came here because I know my country belongs to Europe, but my government does not understand it’, said protester Demetre Shanshiashvili.

‘We are here to protect our country because we do not want to be part of Russia again.’

Critics argue the legislation that Georgians are protesting against is modelled on a 2012 one in Russia designed to curb freedom of speech.

The law, backed by the ruling Georgian Dream party, would require organisations receiving more than 20% of their funding from overseas to register as ‘foreign agents’, or face substantial fines.

Irakli Pavlenishvili, a civil rights activist and opposition politician, stressed it was ‘against Georgia’s national interests and against our European aspirations’.

But Givi Mikanadze, a Georgian Dream lawmaker, told national TV: ‘Georgian society absolutely deserves to know which organisations are being financed, from which sources.’

More than 60 civil society organisations and media outlets have said they will not comply with the bill if it is signed into law.

President Salome Zourabichvili, who wants to veto the law, said she was on the side of the demonstrators. But Parliament can override her veto.

In an address recorded in the US, where she is currently on an official visit, she said: ‘You represent a free Georgia, a Georgia which sees its future in the West, and won’t let anyone to take this future away.

‘Nobody needs this law. Everyone who has voted for this law has violated the constitution.’

Her statement comes just a day after lawmakers fought during a parliamentary committee hearing into the proposed legislation.

The US embassy in Tbilisi released a statement, saying this was ‘a dark day’ for Georgia’s democracy.

It said: ‘Parliament’s advancing of these Kremlin-inspired laws is incompatible with the people of Georgia’s clear desire for European integration and its democratic development.

‘Pursuing these laws will damage Georgia’s relations with its strategic partners and undermine the important work of so many Georgian organizations working to help their fellow citizens.

‘The process and the draft laws raise real questions about the ruling party’s commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration.’

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