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Georgian police arrest 63 demonstrators amid violent crackdown on anti-government protest

by Nate Ostiller May 1, 2024 12:53 PM 2 min read
Police officers detain a protester during a rally against the controversial "foreign agents" bill, which Brussels warns would undermine Georgia's European aspirations, in Tbilisi, early on May 1, 2024. (Giorgi Arjevanidze/AFP via Getty Images) 
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Georgian police arrested 63 demonstrators during a violent crackdown on anti-government protesters who gathered in opposition on April 30 to the controversial foreign agents law, said Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandre Darakhvelidze at a briefing on May 1.

The bill, which must be passed in three readings before it becomes law, would require organizations that receive foreign funding to be labeled as "foreign agents." The law mirrors repressive Russian laws used to crack down on Kremlin regime critics and is popularly referred to in Georgia as the "Russian law."

For the past two weeks, thousands of protesters have gathered nightly in front of the Georgian parliament building on central Rustaveli Avenue.

The protest on the evening of April 30 remained peaceful for several hours, a Kyiv Independent journalist reported. Demonstrators voiced their opposition to the proposed law and the ruling Georgian Dream party under the control of oligarch and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.

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Protesters gathered for a peaceful demonstration against the controversial foreign agents law in Tbilisi, Georgia, on April 30, 2024, shortly before it was violently attacked by police. (Nate Ostiller/the Kyiv Independent)

Suddenly, and largely without warning, police violently attacked the demonstrators with tear gas and water cannons. Many were also beaten by masked officers in scenes that were captured on video and widely spread on social media.

Darakhvelidze said that "participants of the rally continued to attack the policemen," in unsubstantiated claims that contradicted both the Kyiv Independent's reporting on the ground and widespread media coverage of the event.

"The public clearly saw that the action had fully taken on a violent character," Darakhvelidze said, claiming that six police officers were injured as a result.

Opposition lawmaker Levan Khabeishvili said he was severely beaten by police at the rally and shared pictures of his injuries on social media.

Khabeishvili entered the parliament earlier on May 1 in a wheelchair as lawmakers continued to debate the foreign agents law.

"If someone thinks we won’t smile because we lose a tooth or can’t open our eyes, they are very mistaken. We will smile because Georgia will win," he said to lawmakers.

The use of violence to break up the protests was widely criticized by Western officials.

"I strongly condemn the violence against protesters in Georgia who were peacefully demonstrating against the law on foreign influence," said the EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell.

"I call on its authorities to ensure the right to peaceful assembly. (The) use of force to suppress it is unacceptable."

Despite the violent crackdown, protesters vowed to return to the streets again on May 1.

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TBILISI, Georgia – The ruling Georgian Dream party staged a massive rally in Tbilisi on April 29, with tens of thousands of people bussed in from around the country to support the country’s democratic backsliding. Party leaders, including Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladz…
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