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Georgian opposition plan coalition as ‘foreign agent’ law adopted | News

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Law obliges organisations getting more than 20 percent of funding from overseas to register as ‘agents of foreign influence’.

Georgian opposition parties have pledged to form a “pro-European” coalition as the government’s controversial “foreign influence” bill came into law.

Georgia’s parliamentary speaker signed off on the legislation on Monday, meaning that the law, which has caused a political crisis in the South Caucasus country over recent weeks and drawn sharp criticism from its Western allies, has now taken effect.

Critics of the law, including President Salome Zourabichvili, say that the law disrupts Georgia’s ambitions to join the European Union. They insist that the governing Georgian Dream party is seeking to move the country closer to Russia. Massive protests have called for the bill to be dumped. The EU and the United States have also slammed the bill.

However, Speaker of Parliament Shalva Papuashvili signed the bill into law on Monday after the Parliament voted last week to overcome the president’s veto, which was largely symbolic.

Polarisation

The issue is set to continue increasing polarisation in Georgia.

On the same day, the AFP news agency reported that Zourabichvili had persuaded most opposition parties to sign a pro-European policy charter.

Ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for October 26, the parties have agreed to pursue far-reaching electoral, judicial and law enforcement reforms through an interim multiparty government, should they win enough seats in parliament to command a majority.

The plan would involve revoking the “foreign influence” law and several other pieces of legislation which the opposition says are “detrimental to Georgia’s European course”.

Early elections would then be called next year, the groups agreed.

The legislation, which critics say resembles Russian legislation that has been used to crush dissent, requires organisations receiving more than 20 percent of their funding from overseas to register as “agents of foreign influence”, and introduces fines for violations as well as onerous disclosure requirements.

A group of Georgian NGOs has said it will challenge the legislation in the constitutional court and is preparing a submission to the European Court of Human Rights.

Hundreds have also pledged that they will disobey the new law, and aid one another to pay the fines.

Opponents of the bill have for more than a month mounted some of the largest protests in Georgia since independence from Moscow in 1991 as the Soviet Union crumbled.

Among the parties to have signed the pledge to cooperate is the country’s main opposition force, the fervently pro-Western United National Movement.

“Georgian voters expect the opposition to show unity in the election run-up,” one of its leaders, Tina Bokuchava, told AFP.

Russia is unpopular among many Georgians for its support of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, with public opinion broadly supportive of membership in the EU and NATO. Russia defeated Georgia in a five-day war in 2008.

Washington has threatened to sanction Georgian officials who voted for the bill. The Georgian government has accused Western countries of blackmail and said the law is necessary to stop them dragging Georgia into another war with Russia.

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