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US reviews co-operation with Georgia over ‘foreign agent’ law

Europe

US reviews co-operation with Georgia over ‘foreign agent’ law

The US has said it is reviewing its bilateral co-operation with Georgia over its controversial “foreign agent” law that triggered weeks of mass protests in the capital Tbilisi.

In a statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was introducing visa restrictions for individuals responsible for “undermining democracy in Georgia”.

No officials were named, but they are believed to be members of the governing Georgian Dream party.

Critics say the “foreign agent” law is inspired by similar legislation used in neighbouring Russia to target Kremlin critics – a claim denied by the ruling party.

Officials in Tbilisi argue that the legislation will “boost transparency” of foreign funding.

Passed last week, the law requires non-governmental organisations and independent media that receive more than 20% of their funding from foreign donors to register as organisations “bearing the interests of a foreign power”.

Georgia’s president has vetoed the law – but the ruling party has enough MPs to override her intervention by holding another vote in parliament.

In Thursday’s statement, Mr Blinken said the Georgian Dream party “has developed and passed a ‘foreign influence’ law that would stifle the exercise of freedoms of association and expression, stigmatise organisations that serve the citizens of Georgia, and impede independent media organizations working to provide Georgians with access to high quality information.

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“As Georgian citizens have voiced opposition to the law, we have seen clear indications of a campaign of intimidation and the use of violence to suppress peaceful dissent”.

Mr Blinken added that the measures “run contrary to Georgia’s long-stated goal – reflected in its constitution – of Euro-Atlantic integration and strategic partnership with the United States”.

America’s top diplomat also said he hopes that “Georgia’s leaders will reconsider the draft law”.

The authorities in Tbilisi are yet to publicly comment on the US move.

But earlier on Thursday Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Washington of blackmailing Georgia.

Georgia was granted EU candidate status in December 2023, and the EU has already warned the new law would harm Tbilisi’s ambitions of joining the 27-member bloc.

Massive rallies against the “foreign agent” bill have gripped the Caucasus country for weeks, often turning into violent altercations between protesters and police.

Ros Atkins on… Georgia’s protests, Russia and the West

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