Fighting breaks out in Georgian parliament, halting vote on 'foreign agents' law

Fighting breaks out in Georgian parliament, halting vote on 'foreign agents' law
Demonstrations have been going on outside the parliament building for several weeks already. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews May 1, 2024

A debate to approve Georgia’s controversial 'foreign agents' bill in its second reading was disrupted after fights broke out in the chamber between members of the ruling party and opposition MPs on May 1, JAM News reports.

Video posted on social media showed deputies shouting and hitting each other. The bill has already been passed in the first reading and must go through three readings and be signed by the president before becoming law.

The debate on the bill had already descended into fisticuffs during the vote on its first reading. Georgian opposition lawmaker Aleko Elisashvili walked to the podium and punched Mamuka Mdinaradze, leader of the parliamentary faction of the ruling Georgian Dream party, in the head as he was trying to present arguments in favour of voting through the law.

As the growing crisis goes into its sixteenth day, security measures have been intensified in and around the parliament with only TV crews permitted inside.

The parliament building has been the scene of growing protests against the passage of the law, modelled on a Russian analogue. Russian President Vladimir Putin has used his foreign agents law to repress civil society and silence the opposition media.

Demonstrations are expected outside the parliament later on May 1, potentially drawing participants not only from Tbilisi but from diverse regions of Georgia as well.

Tbilisi has been rocked by growing mass demonstrations that are reminiscent of demonstrations against the same law that Georgian Dream tried to introduce last year. Those protests became so large the government was eventually forced to withdraw the bill.

Tension were ratcheted up two days ago when oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, the honorary head of his Georgian Dream party, gave his “Party of War” speech at a pro-government rally,  blaming Georgia’s ills of the last decade on Western foreign interference, and he promised to use the foreign agents law to crack down on United National Movement (UNM), the leading opposition party. 

Tens of thousands of protestors returned to the streets last night to continue the vigil but were attacked by riot police using batons, tear gas and rubber bullets. Violent clashes broke out in central Tbilisi on April 30 between the crowd and police, with one opposition leader bloodied by a beating that knocked out several of his teeth before he was hospitalised. Police also used water cannons on the crowd, who were singing the Georgian national anthem and carrying EU flags.

Georgian police have arrested 63 demonstrators during the crackdown, said Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandre Darakhvelidze on May 1.