Georgian parliament votes to override presidential veto of 'foreign agent' bill


  • World
  • Tuesday, 28 May 2024

Demonstrators gather in front of an electronic screen showing the results of the vote, which allows Georgia's parliament to override a presidential veto of the bill on "foreign agents", during a protest in Tbilisi, Georgia, May 28, 2024. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia's parliament voted on Tuesday to override a presidential veto of a bill on "foreign agents" that has plunged the South Caucasus country into crisis, ignoring criticism from the West which says the legislation is authoritarian and Russian-inspired.

The vote to ignore the objections of Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, whose powers are mostly ceremonial, sets the stage for the speaker of parliament to sign the bill into law in the coming days.

In an address after the vote, Zourabichvili, who is trying to broker an alliance of opposition parties to contest parliamentary elections on Oct 26, said ruling party lawmakers had chosen "Russian slavery", and encouraged people to vote them out at the polls.

The dispute about the draft law has come to be seen as a key test of whether Georgia, for three decades among the most pro-Western of the Soviet Union's successor states, would maintain its Western orientation, or pivot instead to Russia.

The bill would require organisations receiving more than 20% of their funding from overseas to register as "agents of foreign influence", while also introducing punitive fines for violations, as well as onerous disclosure requirements.

The Georgian government says the bill is necessary to promote transparency and to stop what it describes as a plot by Western countries to drag Georgia into a war with Russia.

Thousands of opponents of the bill gathered outside the fortress-like parliament building during voting on Tuesday for the latest in a series of demonstrations that are among the largest in Georgia since it won independence from Moscow in 1991 as the Soviet Union crumbled.

Protester Giorgi Amzashvili said lawmakers who had voted to override the president's veto were "the most treacherous people in our history".

"A disastrous day in our lives, in Georgian history. I struggle to remember anything like this," he said

Large numbers of riot police were deployed around the parliament building, where they have used teargas, pepper spray and watercannon against protesters in recent weeks.

EU 'DEEPLY REGRETS' OVERRIDING OF VETO

The United States, Britain and the European Union have all criticised the bill, which Georgian opposition groups have dubbed "the Russian law", saying it is modelled on Russian legislation used to target opponents of President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin.

Russia is unpopular among many Georgians for its support of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, with public opinion broadly supportive of membership in the EU and NATO.

The United States has threatened to sanction Georgian officials who vote for the bill, a major turnaround in U.S. policy towards what had been among the most pro-Western countries to emerge from the Soviet Union.

The EU said in a statement that it "deeply regrets" the vote to override the veto and was "considering all options to react to these developments."

The Georgian government, which says it still wants to join the EU, has accused Western countries of blackmail over their opposition to the bill.

Russia denies any role in backing the bill, which it has defended from Western criticism.

(Reporting by Felix Light, Editing by Peter Graff, Timothy Heritage and Alistair Bell)

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