Georgian Billionaire Kingmaker Lashes the ‘War Party’ West

(Bloomberg) -- The billionaire founder of Georgia’s ruling party lashed out at the West as he vowed to pass a controversial law on “foreign agents” that has triggered huge protests and drawn condemnation from the US and the European Union.

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Bidzina Ivanishvili said foreign powers he characterized as a “global war party” were attempting to oust his Georgian Dream government using non-governmental organizations. He told a rally of supporters in the capital Tbilisi late Monday that the draft law on the “transparency of foreign influence” aimed to “strengthen the sovereignty of Georgia” by disclosing NGOs’ sources of funding.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili responded to Ivanishvili’s criticism at a ceremony Tuesday marking the country’s army day. “Some are trying to portray our 30-year partners and allies as some foreign and faceless ‘war party,’” she said. “This is a blatant lie.”

The US and the EU have urged Georgia to drop the “foreign agent” law, saying it’s similar to one used by Russian President Vladimir Putin to suppress civil society groups and stifle opponents. They’ve warned it’s incompatible with Georgia’s ambitions of joining the EU after the bloc gave the Caucasus nation candidate status in December.

Zourabichvili has threatened to veto the “Russian law” if it’s passed by parliament, and has sided with thousands of protesters demanding the withdrawal of the legislation.

Ivanishvili, Georgia’s richest man, also threatened repressions against political rivals, saying the opposition United National Movement “will strictly answer for all the crimes it has committed” after parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

Opponents of the law have called for further protests Tuesday as lawmakers gather to consider the legislation in the second reading. Anti-government rallies have regularly drawn thousands since the draft law was announced April 3.

Read more: Georgia Revives ‘Foreign Agent’ Law That Sparked Protests

Georgian Dream attempted to pass the same measure last year but were forced to withdraw it after violent clashes erupted between riot police and protesters.

--With assistance from Helena Bedwell.

(Updates with president’s comment in the third paragraph. An earlier version of this story corrected the name of the opposition party in the sixth paragraph.)

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