Berliner Tageblatt - Rallying Georgians express fear, despair as 'anti-NGO' law looms

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Rallying Georgians express fear, despair as 'anti-NGO' law looms
Rallying Georgians express fear, despair as 'anti-NGO' law looms / Photo: © AFP

Rallying Georgians express fear, despair as 'anti-NGO' law looms

Thousands of Georgians rallied in the capital Tbilisi on Sunday to mark independence day, with many expressing fear the government's coming "foreign influence" law will draw them closer to Russia and derail their dream of joining the EU.

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The law, which targets NGOs and media outlets receiving funding from abroad, is expected to be passed by legislators next week despite it being vetoed by the country's pro-EU president and condemned by Western governments.

On one of the busiest streets in the city, thousands waved European flags and carried placards denouncing what critics have called the "Russian law" over its similarity to legislation first passed by the Kremlin.

"This law is a big threat," 25-year-old protestor Giorgi told AFP.

"The government will use this in the way they want," he said, adding he believed the law would put Tbilisi on a path "straight to Russia".

"That's why we are all standing here, to say: we want independence, we want a united Georgia and we want Europe," he said.

The proposed legislation, introduced by the ruling Georgian Dream conservative party, would require groups receiving over 20 percent of funding from abroad to register as "organisations pursuing the interests of a foreign power".

The United States said this week it had imposed visas restrictions on officials behind the law, which it argued would "stifle the exercise of freedoms of association and expression".

- 'Until we win' -

Opposition politicians have accused the government of being seeking to appease the Kremlin, an accusation it denies.

Georgian Dream says the bill aims to ensure "transparency" among the country's many NGOs.

But Eka Gigauri, the local head of anti-corruption NGO Transparency International, said the legislation would only restrict her work.

"We expect that they will freeze our assets and accounts and they will not allow us to monitor the elections," she told AFP at the protest.

Kate, a 41-year-old worker at a local aviation manufacturer, told AFP she believed the law would "kill free society".

"I don't want to leave my country. I want to stay here, to raise my child here, I want to see my country really free," she said, adding that she was also protesting against what she called the "Russian regime in Georgia".

"I'm quite sure that next week the Russian law will pass," 32-year-old Salome said at the demonstration.

But she said she was "inspired by the people" who had taken to the streets for more than a month against the law.

"So it's an ongoing protest, never-ending until we win," she told AFP.

L.Janezki--BTB