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Georgian president vetoes foreign influence law

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Georgian President Salome Zurabichvili said on Saturday she had vetoed a bill on foreign influence that had sparked protests and plunged the country into a political crisis and threatened to undermine its pro-European aspirations. , in favor of closer ties with Russia.

Georgian Parliament, passed the draft law On third reading, the veto is widely expected to be overturned.ruling Georgian Dream party introduce The proposed legislation could be turned into law as early as May 28 when Parliament reconvenes.

Mrs Zurabichvili called her veto “symbolic” but it still represents a wedge between the country’s pro-Western opposition backed by Mrs Zurabichvili and the Georgian Dream party, which has been in power since 2012 Another step in political conflict.

The crisis has highlighted the high degree of polarization in Georgian political life. It casts doubt on the pro-Western line enshrined in the country’s constitution as U.S. and European officials threaten to downgrade relations with the country and threaten its leaders if the law is finalized and protests against it are suppressed. impose sanctions.

Georgia, a mountainous country of 3.6 million people located in the central Caucasus, was once a pro-Western pioneer among former Soviet countries. If it turns away from the West and instead forges closer ties with Russia, the geopolitics of the entire region could change due to the country’s central location in the region.

this draft bill The issue that sparked the crisis has an innocuous-sounding name: “Transparency of Foreign Influence.”

It requires non-governmental groups and media with more than 20% of their funding from foreign countries to register as “organizations carrying the interests of foreign powers” and provide annual financial statements for their activities. The Georgia Department of Justice will be given broad authority to monitor compliance. Violations may result in fines equivalent to more than $9,000.

The ruling party insists the bill is necessary to strengthen Georgia’s sovereignty and prevent interference in its political life by Western-funded NGOs and media organizations. But the country’s outspoken political opponents have called it a “Russian law” aimed at transforming Georgia into a de facto, if not nominal, pro-Moscow state.

“The essence and spirit of this law is fundamentally Russian and contradicts our constitution and all European standards,” Ms Zurabichvili explain The veto was announced on Saturday. “This law will not be subject to any changes or improvements and therefore can easily be defeated,” she said in a televised address. “This law must be repealed.”

In 2018, Mrs. Zurabichvili received support from the Georgian Dream Party and successfully ran for president. But in the years since, Mrs Zurabichvili has become increasingly critical of the party’s policies, a process of mutual alienation that culminated in the party’s failed attempt to impeach her in 2023.

Mrs Zurabichvili was born in Paris to a prominent family of Georgian immigrants who fled the Bolshevik occupation of the country in 1921, and this was her first official post in Georgia. In 2003, he served as French Ambassador. The following year, she accepted Georgian citizenship and became the country’s first female foreign minister, a position she held until October 2005. Before becoming Georgia’s president, Mrs Zurabichvili also founded her own political party and was elected to parliament in 2016.

While Mrs Zorabichvili’s role is largely ceremonial, she has become the public face of protests against the rule of the Georgian Dream party as Georgia’s opposition party suffers internal divisions.

Since the draft law was introduced in early April, the country’s capital Tbilisi swallowed in protest. Protesters, many of them students, marched through the streets of Tbilisi almost daily, chanting “No to Russian law.” They repeatedly surrounded the imposing Soviet-era parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue and tried to block its entrance.

Many protests turned violent, with riot police chasing protesters from the parliament building, often using tear gas, pepper spray and fists to disperse them. Many opposition members were arrested and beaten. Some people reported harassment and intimidation by authorities. Protesters once again filled the square in front of parliament on Saturday following Mrs Zurabicvili’s veto.

At the end of April, the ruling party headed by Bidzina Ivanishvili organized a rally in support of the bill. Bitina Ivanishvili is a reclusive oligarch who returned to Georgia after making a fortune in Russia in the early 2000s. Thousands of conservative Georgians also took part in a church march through the city center on Friday to one of Tbilisi’s main cathedrals. Many of them expressed support for the bill.

“I have friends in Ukraine, Russia, Moldova,” said Gocha Kekenadze, a farmer from the Kakheti region east of Tbilisi who participated in the march. “We want to live like before,” said Koknadze, 62. “It was the Americans who told us to pick up rifles and fight Russia.”

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