The US imposed sanctions on the contested bill, while Brussels warned it would freeze the country’s path to membership of the bloc.

The Georgian parliament voted on Tuesday to adopt a controversial new law that would classify Western-backed NGOs and media outlets as “foreign agents”, marking a dramatic escalation in a growing dispute with Washington and Brussels.

The proposals, which would designate civil society groups that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power,” were approved by deputies by a margin of 84 votes to 4, with the majority abstaining. of opposition legislators.

This comes after Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili refused to transform the bill, classifying it as a “Russian law” that “contradicts our constitution and all European standards”. However, her veto was overridden by a simple majority in parliament. Now, parliamentary president Shalva Papuashvili will sanction it.

The ruling Georgian Dream party said the rules were necessary to prevent outside influence, accusing NGOs of promoting “LGBT propaganda” and trying to stage “a revolution”. Domestic critics fear this could be a precursor to a Russian-style crackdown on civil society ahead of October’s national elections. Europe’s top legal authority warned that the rules are similar to those used by Moscow to silence dissidents and close NGOs.

Addressing protesters gathered outside Parliament via a live broadcast after the vote, Zourabichvili said: “You are angry today and rightly so, but let’s get down to business,” pledging to hold a referendum on “whether we want the European future or Russian slavery”.

If the Georgian president calls a referendum, the Constitution requires 200,000 signatures from voters and, in some cases, a countersignature from the prime minister. Georgian referenda do not have the power to adopt or repeal a law.

“We should prepare a real referendum,” said Zourabichvili. “Use whatever energy you have to collect signatures and bring them to me. I will sign the referendum.”

Washington announced it would impose travel bans and other sanctions on politicians “complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia,” and the EU declared that passage of the law would torpedo the South Caucasus country’s hopes of joining the bloc.

Brussels granted Georgia EU candidate status in December, despite concerns about backsliding on human rights issues and a failure to implement key reforms.

Growing anger at the ruling Georgian Dream party’s Russian-style legislation has seen huge crowds take to the streets of Tbilisi. | Gabriel Gavin/POLITICIAN

Responding to the bill’s approval, the bloc’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said in a statement that the EU “deeply regrets” the move, warning that it would violate Georgia’s commitments under its candidate status. He said “insufficient political attention” had been given to other key areas where reform was needed and that Brussels would now assess its response.

Speaking to POLITICO at the time of the vote, Tina Bokuchava, leader of the largest opposition party in parliament, the United National Movement, accused the government of “trying to deprive the Georgian people of their European future.”

“Georgia’s European aspirations can only be safeguarded through regime change. Ahead of the October elections, it is essential that opposition leaders unite to repeal this Kremlin-inspired law and put Georgia back on the European path,” she said.

Georgian Dream did not respond to a request for comment.

According to Kornely Kakachia, director of the Georgian Policy Institute, the law’s approval “marks the consolidation of authoritarianism” that has increasingly defined the last few years of Georgian Dream’s mandate.

Brussels may not immediately freeze the country’s candidate status pending the results of elections in October, he said, “but the process will freeze and it will not be business as usual with the Georgian government.”



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