Georgian parliament cancels session after building damaged during protests

The parliament of Georgia has cancelled a session following massive protests against a proposed law that critics fear will stifle media freedom and endanger the country’s bid for European Union membership.

The parliament said the cancellation of Thursday’s plenary session was connected to damage the building suffered during protests on Wednesday in which police used water cannon, tear gas and pepper spray against the tens of thousands of demonstrators.

The legislature had approved a second reading of the bill that would require media and non-commercial organisations to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of funding from abroad.

The third and final reading was expected in mid-May and it is not clear if the cancellation of Thursday’s session would affect the bill’s progress.

Georgian protesters
Demonstrators build a barricade during an opposition protest against ‘the Russian law’ near the Parliament building in Tbilisi (AP)

Opponents have denounced the bill as “the Russian law” because neighbouring Russia uses similar legislation to stigmatise independent news media and organisations critical of the Kremlin.

Eighty-three of Georgia’s 150 legislators approved the bill in its second reading, while 23 voted against it.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, increasingly at odds with the governing party, has criticised the bill and vowed to veto it if it is passed by parliament.

But the governing party can overrule the veto and ask the parliamentary speaker to sign the bill into law.

The EU’s foreign policy arm earlier this month also criticised Georgian Dream’s decision to reintroduce the law, which it said “raises serious concerns” around media freedom in the country – something it called “crucial for the EU accession process”.

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