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Georgia signs ‘foreign influence’ bill into law.

Georgia signed into law controversial “foreign influence” legislation on Monday, prompting its pro-European opposition to promise far-reaching political reforms if it wins elections in October.

The law, which critics say is modeled on Russian legislation used to stifle dissent, has sparked weeks of daily protests in the capital Tbilisi and condemnation from Georgia’s Western partners.

Brussels warned the move would derail the Black Sea nation from its path to European Union membership, and the United States has also threatened Georgian officials with individual travel bans.

Despite those warnings, the speaker of Georgia’s parliament, Shalva Papuashvili, signed the measures into law on Monday — the final stage of approval after the chamber voted last week to override a veto by President Salome Zurabishvili.

“Today I signed the law on the transparency of foreign influence, the main objective of which is to strengthen the sustainability of Georgia’s political, economic and social systems,” Papuashvili said in a statement.

The measures require NGOs and media outlets that receive at least a fifth of their funding from abroad to register within two months as “organisations pursuing the interests of a foreign power”.

The plans sparked nearly two months of daily mass protests, with police using tear gas and water cannons to disperse rallies, beating and arresting demonstrators.

– Pro-EU Charter –

The measures exposed and deepened divisions in Georgian society ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for October 26.

The vote is seen as a key test of Georgia’s democracy more than 30 years after Tbilisi gained independence with the breakup of the Soviet Union.

On Monday, almost all of Georgia’s opposition parties began signing a pro-European policy charter proposed by President Zurabishvili in an attempt to create a united front ahead of the vote.

They have agreed to pursue far-reaching electoral, judicial and law enforcement reforms through a multi-party interim government if they win enough seats in parliament to secure a majority.

Snap elections were to be called next year, the groups agreed.

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

Among the groups that signed the pact was the country’s main opposition force, former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s fervently pro-Western United National Movement.

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

– “Transparency” –

Dozens of Georgian NGOs have vowed to defy the “foreign influence” law and appeal to the country’s Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights.

The Georgian Dream faces mounting accusations that it has steered the country away from its Western trajectory and back into Russia’s orbit.

These accusations have intensified since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022 and with the passage of the “foreign influence” law.

The party says it is committed to Georgia’s European aspirations and says the law will ensure “transparency” regarding Western-funded groups it says are undermining the country’s sovereignty.

Georgian activists, independent journalists and opposition politicians have also accused the government of a concerted campaign of violence and threats against NGO leaders.

Georgia’s accession to the EU is enshrined in the country’s constitution and supported – according to opinion polls – by over 80% of the population.

Tbilisi was granted EU candidate status last year, but Brussels has stressed the need for “significant and irreversible” reforms in areas such as the judiciary, oligarch power and media freedoms.

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FOX28 Spokane©