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Georgian PM rejects US, EU criticism of draft 'foreign agents' law

1 min

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze rejected on Friday criticism from the United States and European Union of a draft "foreign agents" law, saying opponents of the bill were unwilling to engage in a meaningful discussion.

Demonstrators hold a rally to protest against a bill on "foreign agents" in Tbilisi, Georgia, May 2, 2024. Reuters/Irakli Gedenidze

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze rejected on Friday criticism from the United States and European Union of a draft "foreign agents" law, saying opponents of the bill were unwilling to engage in a meaningful discussion.

The draft legislation, which is winding its way through the Georgian parliament, would require organisations receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as agents of foreign influence, a requirement opponents attack as authoritarian and Kremlin-inspired.

Several thousand protesters took to the streets again on Friday to voice their opposition, moving towards the headquarters of the ruling Georgian Dream party and then attending a Holy Friday service ahead of Orthodox Easter Sunday.

The European Union and the United States have urged Tbilisi to drop the legislation or risk harming its chances of European Union membership and a broader Euro-Atlantic future.

The standoff is seen as part of a wider struggle that could determine whether Georgia, a country of 3.7 million people that has experienced war and revolution since the fall of the Soviet Union, moves closer to Europe or back under Moscow's influence.

Kobakhidze said the legislation was necessary for transparency and accountability in the South Caucasus nation.

"I explained to (senior U.S. diplomat Derek) Chollet that false statements made by the officials of the U.S. State Department about the transparency bill and street rallies remind us of similar false statements made by the former U.S. Ambassador in 2020-2023," Kobakhidze said on X.

He said the previous U.S. statements had encouraged violence from what he called foreign-funded actors and had supported "revolutionary processes" which he said had been unsuccessful.

"I clarified to Mr. Chollet that it requires a special effort to restart the relations (between Georgia and the United States) against this background, which is impossible without a fair and honest approach."

The White House has expressed concerns that the legislation could stifle dissent and free speech.

Kobakhidze also expressed disappointment at a conversation with European Council President Charles Michel, saying the EU had "been reluctant to engage in substantive discussions."

"Furthermore, I highlighted that we have not yet heard any counterarguments against this proposed legislation," he said.

Michel said on X that "Georgian citizens' call for an open democratic and pluralistic society must be heeded... Georgia's future belongs with the EU. Don't miss this historic chance."

Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire founder of the Georgian Dream party and a former prime minister, has said he will fight for what he called "the full restoration of the sovereignty of Georgia".

Reporting by Felix Light

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