1 of 3 | Georgia moved to ditch a law that would require media outlets, NGOs and any organization that receives more than 20% of its funding from overseas to register as foreign agents after two days of protests. Photo by Zurab Kurtskidze/EPA-EFE
March 9 (UPI) -- Georgia's governing Dream Party said Thursday it had abandoned its controversial "foreign agents" bill following two days of violence inside and outside the parliament building in the capital Tbilisi.
"We have made a decision to withdraw the bill supported by us by the responsible ruling power, unconditionally, without any reservation," the party said in a statement. It explained that the decision had been made in the interests of peace, economic development and to avoid de-railing Georgia's progress toward integration with Europe.
However, it remained unclear if the law is gone for good with the party saying it failed only because "a "machine of lies was able to present the bill in a negative light and mislead a certain part of the public" and pledging to launch a public consultation to explain the law and why it was necessary.
Protests erupted Tuesday after the "transparency in foreign influence " bill requiring media outlets, NGOs and any organization that receives more than 20% of its funding from overseas to register as foreign agents, passed its first reading in parliament.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators besieged parliament leading to clashes with police who used water cannons and tear gas against protestors who in turn smashed windows, set vehicles ablaze and hurled stones and Molotov cocktails. At least 133 people were arrested and 60 officers injured, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Scuffles also broke out between rival politicians inside the legislative chamber.
Opponents feared the law was a "Kremlin-inspired" move aimed at curtailing free speech because it parallels tactics Moscow has used to silence criticism of the Russian government, particularly since its invasion of Ukraine.
The decision to drop the legislation, which had drawn widespread international condemnation, was welcomed by the European Union.
"We welcome the announcement by the ruling party to withdraw draft legislation on 'foreign influence'. We encourage all political leaders in Georgia to resume pro-EU reforms, in an inclusive & constructive way and in line with the 12 priorities for Georgia to achieve candidate status," the EU delegation to Georgia said in a Twitter post.
Georgia's application for candidate status is currently under consideration by the EU.
On Wednesday, European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned the legislation could affect that decision calling it "incompatible with EU values and standards" because of the risks of it having a chilling effect on civil society and media organizations.