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Georgian President Declares Controversial Foreign Influence Bill Unacceptable

Tbilisi, Georgia — A controversial media bill passed by Georgia’s parliament this week is “unacceptable” and will be vetoed, President Salomé Zourabichvili said on Thursday, reaffirming her opposition to a measure that critics see as a threat to freedom of expression.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Zurabichvili harshly criticized the ruling Georgian Dream party for championing the bill, which is also widely seen as a threat to Georgia’s aspirations to join the European Union.

The bill, passed Tuesday, requires media outlets, nongovernmental organizations and other nonprofit groups to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20 percent of their funding from the foreigner. The government says the bill is needed to stem what it sees as harmful foreign actors trying to destabilize politics in the South Caucasus country of 3.7 million people.

“This is unacceptable as it reflects a change in Georgia’s attitude towards civil society, towards the media and towards the recommendations of the European Commission which are not consistent with our declared policy of moving towards European integration,” Zurabichvili told the AP. .

She reaffirmed her intention to veto it because it “goes directly against the spirit or letter of the EU’s recommendations.”

Zurabichvili is increasingly at odds with the Georgian Dream party, which has a sufficient majority to override his veto. She has until May 28 — 14 days after its adoption — to act.

She stressed that it was her “duty, under the Constitution, to do everything in my capacity to support and consolidate European integration”.

Huge crowds of protesters blocked streets in the capital Tbilisi and gathered in anger outside the parliament building after lawmakers approved the measure by 84 votes to 30, despite strong criticism from the United States and the EU.

“The authorities are not doing what the country expects and the country is reacting because it wants Europe and does not want to lose the possibility, at the end of the year, of seeing these accession negotiations open” , said Zurabishvili.

The bill is almost identical to one that the Georgian Dream party was pressured to withdraw last year after street protests. New protests have rocked Georgia for weeks, with demonstrators clashing with police, who used tear gas and water cannons to disperse them.

The opposition denounced the bill as “Russian law” because Moscow uses similar legislation to crack down on independent news media, nonprofits and activists critical of the Kremlin.

European Council President Charles Michel said Tuesday that if Georgians “want to join the EU, they must respect the fundamental principles of the rule of law and democratic principles.”

Zourabichvili stressed that after Georgia received candidate status for EU membership last fall, the government should have focused on adopting the necessary laws to be able to launch accession negotiations to the end of the year.

“Parliament should work day and night to satisfy the recommendations that we have on the table on justice reform, on the independence of the anti-corruption agency and things like that,” she said in AP. “And instead of doing what is expected of us, Parliament is working on a law which was rejected last year and which all our partners, European partners, declared was not in line with the values ​​and to European objectives. »

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the United States was “deeply troubled” by the legislation, which she said “goes against democratic values ​​and would further alienate Georgia of the values ​​of the European Union. And let’s not forget NATO either.”

Its adoption “will force us to fundamentally reassess our relationship with Georgia,” Jean-Pierre added.

US Undersecretary of State for Europe and Eurasia James O’Brien met with Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze on Tuesday and told reporters that “if the law is passed without complying with the standards of the EU, if democracy is weakened here and if violence is committed against peaceful demonstrators, then we will see restrictions coming from the United States.

ABC News

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