World News

Georgia cracks down on pro-EU protesters in Russia pivot

Georgian police brutally cracked down on pro-democracy protesters, marking a significant deterioration in civil rights and a pro-Russian pivot in the EU candidate country.

Police used water cannons, stun grenades, tear gas and pepper spray Tuesday night to disperse a large protest against a “foreign agents” law that protesters say is inspired by Vladimir Putin’s Russia . The violence erupted a day after a rare appearance by pro-Russian oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is also the founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party.

Ivanishvili took part in a pro-government rally on Monday during which he delivered a long, conspiratorial, anti-Western speech reminiscent of Russian propaganda, claiming that Georgia was not governed by “elected authorities, but by foreign agents.”

The law sparked several nights of protests last month, but violence escalated Tuesday evening, with riot police beating demonstrators and arresting at least 63 people, according to the Interior Ministry.

Protesters gathered on Tuesday evening after parliament passed the “foreign agents” law, despite warnings from the EU and the opposition that it mimics Putin’s crackdown on dissent.

As calm returned to the city center on Wednesday, the parliamentary session devoted to the bill was disrupted by a massive fight between dozens of deputies.

The law requires NGOs and media outlets that receive more than 20 percent foreign funding to register with the Justice Ministry or face fines, raising concerns about a Kremlin-style crackdown and possible prosecutions.

Police use water cannons to disperse protesters near parliamentary buildings in Tbilisi © Giorgi Arjevanidze/AFP/Getty Images

As elections approach, Georgian Dream sees the law as a way to control the opposition and maximize its chances of retaining its parliamentary majority. But for pro-EU Georgians, it poses a serious threat to the country’s aspirations to join the bloc and a rapprochement with Russia.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili can refuse to sign the law, but the government can ignore her. Zourabichvili ran as an independent with the support of the Georgian Dream, but has since fallen out with the party and is now a fierce critic. On Tuesday, she called the crackdown “totally unjustified, unprovoked and disproportionate.”

Zourabichvili said the government bore “full responsibility” for the violence and that “the right to peaceful protest was being denied to the Georgian people.”

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission wrote on social media platform

“The Georgian people want a European future for their country. . . She must stay the course on the road to Europe,” she posted.

A European official warned that any punitive action by Brussels could backfire. “The situation is very bad and there are serious concerns within the EU regarding the policies and behavior of Georgian Dream,” the official said. At the same time, if the EU were to freeze Georgia’s application for membership, it would “only strengthen Russian influence in the country and play into the hands of the ruling party.”

“The problem is that on the one hand we have a problematic ruling party that attacks the EU and does everything against membership while claiming to want to join the EU,” the official said. “On the other hand, we have a decidedly pro-European population. So this requires a balance.

The Financial Times saw dozens of people, mostly young women, leaving the demonstration in tears and trembling, their faces reddened by tear gas.

According to media reports, paramedics provided first aid to at least 20 protesters who mainly complained of choking and a burning sensation in their eyes. At least one person lost consciousness after being hit by a rubber bullet.

Levan Khabeishvili, leader of the United National Movement, the second opposition party in Parliament, was also beaten and sent to hospital, with half of his face beaten and one eye unable to be opened.

“I don’t feel any pain. The head will heal, the eyes will heal and the body will heal. It’ll be fine. The fight against Putinists must continue,” he said in a video released by the party.

Several journalists were attacked, including an AFP photographer who was beaten with a rubber baton, even though he was clearly identified as a member of the press.

The Georgian Interior Ministry said police resorted to special measures because rally participants “engaged in verbal and physical confrontations” with law enforcement.

Bidzina Ivanishvili
Bidzina Ivanishvili greets supporters at a rally Monday where he delivered a long, conspiratorial, anti-Western speech ©AP

The police response Tuesday contrasted sharply with the pro-government rally of around 100,000 people the night before, when participants came by bus from all over the country – “a Putin-like action,” according to Zourabichvili.

Participants in that rally – mostly elderly, many from rural areas and the working class – told the FT they had come to support “the homeland”, their “faith” and their “sovereignty “. They also talked about “Western special services” and Nazi infiltration into their country – a recurring theme in Russian propaganda.

In his speech, Ivanishvili criticized the West for leaving Georgia and Ukraine “in a deadlock” instead of allowing them to join NATO. He claimed that a “global war party” made these decisions and pitted Georgia against Russia in 2008. That year, Moscow sent its tanks toward Tbilisi in a week-long war that consolidated the Russia’s hold on two breakaway Georgian regions.

But Ivanishvili also pledged to integrate Georgia into the EU by 2030 – a reflection of the strong pro-European sentiment in the country.

“Ivanishvili rarely makes such public statements, only in situations where he has no other choice,” said Vano Chkhikvadze of the Civil Society Georgia Foundation group in Tbilisi.

News Source :
Gn world

jack colman

With a penchant for words, jack began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class. After interning at the New York Times, jack landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim. Though writing is his passion, jack also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
Back to top button