Georgia Lawmakers Pass ‘Foreign Agent’ Law, Defying Protests

(Bloomberg) -- Georgian lawmakers passed a bill against so-called foreign influence even as thousands protested outside the parliament against the measure that Western allies say is similar to a law Russia uses to crush dissent.

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The ruling Georgian Dream party approved the measure, also known as the “foreign agent” law, by 84 votes to 30 against in the 150-seat parliament. President Salome Zourabichvili has pledged to veto the law and sided with protesters who’ve staged massive demonstrations in the capital Tbilisi for weeks, demanding the withdrawal of the legislation.

Tina Bokuchava, parliamentary leader of the opposition United National Movement said the vote would “focus minds on the urgent need for regime change in Georgia.” With elections scheduled for October, the protests may prove a “watershed moment” for the country, she said.

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze insisted on Sunday that the government would press ahead with the measure, saying it was aimed at increasing transparency over the foreign funding sources of non-governmental organizations and media.

The US and the European Union have both warned Georgian Dream against following through with the “Kremlin-inspired” legislation, saying it jeopardized the Caucasus nation’s ambitions of achieving EU and NATO membership.

A US State Department spokesman said earlier this month that Georgia was on “a precarious trajectory.” US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O’Brien was in Tbilisi on Tuesday and met with Kobakhidze, as well as opposition politicians and representatives from civil society.

Earlier, when asked about possible US sanctions, Kobakhidze said he didn’t consider it a “serious” threat, and expressed hope that the US would remain Georgia’s partner.

But O’Brien said in the event of violence and an undermining of democracy, the US would likely impose travel and financial restrictions on some individuals and their families.

If the law goes ahead without conforming to EU norms, Georgia’s relationship with the US “is at risk,” he told reporters.

Read more: US Warns Georgia Risks Ties to West Over ‘Kremlin-Inspired’ Law

Protesters have rallied for weeks, defying riot police who’ve repeatedly used tear gas, pepper spray and water cannon against people gathered outside the parliament. The EU has condemned that use of force as unacceptable.

Some students and professors at universities announced plans to start striking Monday.

(Adds US comments from eighth paragraph.)

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