Georgia uses tear gas and water cannon against pro-EU protesters

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Authorities used water cannon to disperse protesters, some of whom waved EU flags as jets of water forced them away from the building.
Riot police charged the crowd several times without warning; dozens were beaten and pushed back.
Tear gas, deployed where demonstrators had been standing, added to the chaos.
Several times after being driven off, however, the protesters returned to occupy central Rustaveli Avenue, sparking further clashes with riot police.
Opponents of the bill argue that if it is enacted, it would push Georgia away from its path toward the EU, and back into the arms of Putin’s Russia.
Authorities had earlier sealed the area around the parliament, where tens of thousands of people gathered waving EU flags.
“I’m here to protest because this isn’t the way Georgia should go,” said Marte, a 19-year-old student in the crowd outside the parliament.
“I promise that having overcome these difficulties, with sovereignty and dignity intact, in 2030, Georgia will join the EU,” he insisted.


TBILISI — Riot police repressed protesters in the Georgian capital on Tuesday night, clearing a space in front of the parliament where thousands of people had been calling on the government to repeal a contentious “foreign agent” law modeled after Putin.

Protesters waved EU flags as water jets forced them from the building as the authorities used water cannons to scatter them. Numerous people were beaten and forced back as riot police unexpectedly charged the crowd multiple times. Tear gas was used to further exacerbate the chaos where the protesters had been standing.

But the demonstrators kept coming back to occupy central Rustaveli Avenue after being driven away, which led to more altercations with riot police. While police held an undetermined number of people, ambulances took the injured to safety.

The violence is a dramatic increase following weeks of widespread protests against the ruling Georgian Dream party’s plans to make it mandatory for NGOs, political organizations, and media outlets to register as “foreign agents” if more than 20 percent of their funding comes from outside.

The policies were first proposed by Georgian Dream last year, but they were later abandoned in the face of intense public outcry and international criticism, with comparisons being made to regulations put in place by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration to crush dissent and choke off civil society.

The bill’s opponents contend that if it is passed, Georgia will be forced to turn back toward Putin’s Russia and away from its intended course toward membership in the EU.

The EU said the bill is “incompatible with European values,” and a spokesperson told POLITICO earlier this month that the government should withdraw it or risk jeopardizing Georgia’s chances of joining the bloc. The EU granted Georgia candidate status in November.

Salome Zourabichvili, the president of Georgia, demanded on the interior ministry of her nation to “immediately stop dispersing a peaceful demonstration with disproportionate force” on Tuesday night. Zourabichvili is against the push to introduce the bill by the ruling party. “.

“It was clear that the protest went on without incident, posed no threat to public order, and proceeded peacefully. Turning against your own youth is a shame,” she continued.

Tens of thousands of people gathered around the parliament, waving EU flags, when authorities had earlier sealed off the area. In a statement, the interior ministry asked demonstrators to leave the gates in order to “avoid artificial escalation of events” and “to ensure the safe movement of MPs and staff.”. “.

The protesters remained unfazed. One student, Marte, 19, said to the throng outside the parliament, “I’m here to protest because this isn’t the way Georgia should go.”. “This law is completely at odds with our desire to follow European law and become a part of the European Union. “.

The leader of the opposition hurt.

It appears that during Tuesday’s clashes, at least one prominent opposition figure was taken into custody.

The United National Movement (UNM), the principal opposition party in Georgia, released a video featuring its chairman, Levan Khabeishvili, showing injuries including a black eye, swollen nose, missing tooth, and abrasions.

“I don’t feel pain. It will pass that the physical injury and the eye injury. This too shall pass. In a video, Khabeishvili stated, “The battle against Putinists must continue.

Khabeishvili was taken away by police, according to a previous UNM report.

The US and EU adopt a firm stance.

The USA. S. The State Department stated that the “Kremlin-inspired” legislation may inhibit independent media organizations’ efforts to give Georgians access to high-quality information, restrict freedom of expression, and stigmatize organizations that provide these benefits to the state’s citizens. “.

However, Georgian Dream maintains that in order to safeguard the nation’s sovereignty, new laws are required. During a second reading of the bill on Wednesday, lawmakers are anticipated to vote in favor of it.

Former prime minister and well-known oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili blasted Western-backed NGOs, claimed a “global war party” was to blame for the conflict in Ukraine, and vowed to punish his “criminal and treasonous” political rivals following the October elections in a bombastic speech given at a rally outside the parliament on Monday night.

“I guarantee that Georgia will become a member of the EU in 2030, having triumphed over these challenges and maintained its sovereignty and dignity.”.

Nevertheless, the police violence seemed to be hardening opinions in Brussels as Jan-Geert Koopman, the EU director-general in charge of enlargement and neighborhood policy, got ready for a trip to Georgia that starts on Wednesday.

Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, a German MEP and member of the European Parliament foreign affairs committee, spoke to POLITICO as riot police kept clearing the streets of central Tbilisi. She urged Koopman to adopt a firm stance with the government following the crackdown.

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