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Georgian president vetoes ‘foreign agents’ bill after widespread opposition

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Georgia’s President Salome Zourabichvili has vetoed a controversial “foreign agents” bill that sparked weeks of widespread protests across the country.

Zourabichvili had previously vowed to torpedo the bill, but her veto could still be overruled by a simple majority in parliament, which approved the bill on Tuesday with 84 lawmakers voting in favor and 30 against.

The divisive legislation would require organizations receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as “agents of foreign influence” or face a fine. Opponents say the bill was modeled after similar laws in Russia that the Kremlin has used to snuff out opposition and civil society.

“This law, in its essence and spirit, is fundamentally Russian, contradicting our constitution and all European standards,” President Zourabichvili said after vetoing the bill on Saturday.

She said the bill must be repealed, suggesting it could prevent the country from joining the European Union. The EU had given similar warnings.

Georgia applied for EU membership in 2022 and was granted candidate status in December, a move seen as an effort to reverse the former Soviet republic’s drift toward Russia.

Georgia has long been caught between Russia and the West. Despite gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and polls showing that an estimated 80% of Georgians want to join the EU, its history with Moscow is hobbling its relationship with Europe.

Georgia’s stance towards Russia is decidedly mixed. The two countries have had no formal diplomatic relations since Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 – but Russians living and working there enjoy lax visa requirements, making it an easy choice for those who fled from Russia’s conscription into the war in Ukraine.

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