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Georgia’s Foreign Agent Law Live | Riot police deploy water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters

30 April 2024
Photo: Robin Fabbro/OC Media.

Protests against the draft foreign agent law are set to resume, alongside the second plenary reading of the bill. 

Read more:

This article will be updated throughout the day. 

01 May 2024, 05:40

We’re wrapping up our coverage for today. Join us again tomorrow when the foreign agent law is expected to continue its second reading in parliament.

You can read our editorial on what is unfolding in Tbilisi here.

01 May 2024, 05:14

Protesters retake front of parliament

Several thousand protesters that remain are celebrating after retaking the area in front of the Georgian Parliament, following the withdrawal of riot police from Rustaveli Avenue.

Photo: Robin Fabbro/OC Media.
Photo: Robin Fabbro/OC Media.

01 May 2024, 04:00

Riot police resting on Liberty square. Photo: Robin Fabbro/OC Media.

01 May 2024, 02:31

Lithuanian Foreign Minister ‘heartbroken’ 

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis has posted on X that he was ‘heartbroken’ by Bidzina Ivanishvili’s speech yesterday, during which Ivanishvili made anti-Western statements.

01 May 2024, 01:54

Opposition leader bloodied 

Levan Khabeishvili, an MP and chair of the opposition United National Movement (UNM) party, has appeared on camera bloodied and missing several teeth.

Levan Khabiashvili.

Several minutes before images of Khabeishvili appeared online, the UNM reported, that Khabeishvili had been ‘kidnapped’ on ‘Bidzina Ivanishvili’s personal order’.

‘At the time of his arrest, he was helping an injured citizen at the rally. The United National Movement appeals to the Ministry of Internal Affairs to ensure the physical safety of Levan Khabeishvili and release him immediately’, they wrote.

Footage also showed police attempting to rip MP Aleko Elisashvili, the chair of the Citizens Party, from the crowd before other protesters managed to save him.

01 May 2024, 01:33

Public Defender calls for investigation into ‘disproportionate force’ by police

Georgia’s Public Defender’s Office has called on investigative agencies to conduct an investigation into the police’s use of ‘disproportionate force’ against protesters as well as injuries among journalists.

01 May 2024, 01:29

President Zourabichvili calls on Interior Minister to stop crackdown

President Salome Zourabichvili has called on the Minster of Internal Affairs, Vakhtang Gomelauri, to ‘immediately stop the crackdown on the peaceful protest, the use of disproportionate force, the violence against the young people who came with bare hands’.

‘It is clear that the demonstration was peaceful, there was no threat, there was nothing threatening order’, she said.

‘It’s shameful to confront your youth when you claim to be patriotic, it’s a shame to appeal to your faith and renew violence during Holly Week!’, she concluded.

01 May 2024, 01:06

Arrests in Zugdidi

According to Formula, two people were arrested near Zugdidi City Hall in western Georgia, where people spontaneously came out to demonstrate after the crackdown on protesters in Tbilisi.

01 May 2024, 00:37

Riot police push protesters down Rustaveli Avenue

Riot police are continuing to push protesters down Rustaveli Avenue using tear gas, stun grenades, and water cannons. Demonstrators continue to return and face off with them.

30 Apr 2024, 23:51

Protesters are returning to parliament after deployment of water cannons and teargas

Protesters are now returning to where they were in front of parliament despite just having been dispersed by water cannons and tear gas.

30 Apr 2024, 23:46

Police use water cannons to disperse protesters around parliament

Police have used a water cannon to disperse protesters against the foreign agent law in the side of the parliament building.

30 Apr 2024, 23:43

Riot police march on to Rustaveli Avenue from Freedom Square

Dozens of riot police have just begun marching into Rustaveli Avenue accompanied by water and sound cannons.

30 Apr 2024, 23:23

Riot police deploy tear gas against demonstrators

Riot police have used tear gas to clear the areas around parliament. They did not give prior warning.

30 Apr 2024, 23:00

Police using force

Riot police used force earlier this evening, as well as deploying pepper spray several times to clear the area behind parliament.

30 Apr 2024, 21:49

Police deploy pepper spray 

Police around parliament have deployed pepper spray against protesters, according to local media, without prior warning.

30 Apr 2024, 21:48

Riot police continue to arrive 

Riot police are streaming into Tbilisi’s Freedom Square as protests against Georgia’s foreign agent law continue outside parliament and the Government Chancellery.

30 Apr 2024, 21:21

Second reading to resume tomorrow

MPs will not vote on the foreign agent bill today, with the second reading due to resume tomorrow.

30 Apr 2024, 21:15

Interior Ministry calls on protesters to move away from parliament entrances

The Interior Ministry has called on protesters to move away from the entrances of parliament ‘‘to ensure the safe movement of MPs and staff’ and to ‘avoid artificial escalation of events’.

‘Any violation of the law will be followed by a response provided for by the law’, they added.

30 Apr 2024, 21:15

Couriers join demonstration

A group of delivery drivers have joined the protest against Georgia’s foreign agent law on motorbikes. 

30 Apr 2024, 21:07

Riot police confront protesters

Riot police are confronting protesters around the rear and side of parliament as MPs remain inside.

Local media reported that protesters attempted to surround the parliament building.

30 Apr 2024, 20:58

Father of murdered Khorava street teenager announces hunger strike 

Zaza Saralidze, whose son, Davit Saralidze, was killed on Khorava Street in Tbilisi in 2017, has announced that he yesterday began a hunger strike against the foreign agent bill. 

‘I have to be on hunger strike until this law is withdrawn’, he told Mtavari Arkhi.

In December 2017, two 16-years-old boys, Davit Saralidze and Levan Dadunashvili, died from multiple stab wounds sustained during a school brawl that broke out following an argument earlier that day.

Zaza Saralidze. Screengrab via Mtavari Arkhi

30 Apr 2024, 20:47

Protesters move to back of parliament

Hundreds of protesters have gathered at the back entrance of Georgia’s parliament, with a crowd of thousands continuing to grow in front of the building. Protesters are holding signs condemning the government and the foreign agent law.

30 Apr 2024, 20:24

Protesters gather in front of parliament

Thousands are gathering in front of the Georgian parliament in protest against the foreign agent law, which is currently in its second plenary hearing. Civil society organisations have called on the public to join tonight’s protest.

A student march is moving towards Georgia’s parliament, to join tonight’s protest against the foreign agent law.

30 Apr 2024, 19:52

Students march in Kutaisi against foreign agent bill

Several hundred students from Kutaisi International University have held a march against the bill on foreign agents, denouncing the draft law and its expected negative impact on Georgia’s prospects of EU membership. 

30 Apr 2024, 19:48

MPs condemn Ivanishvili’s speech

Opposition politicians have condemned the speech of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the ruling party’s founder and honorary chair, at yesterday’s pro-government rally. 

[Read more: Ivanishvili touts conspiracy theories at massive pro-government rally in Tbilisi]

MP Khatia Dekanoidze, from the Euro-optimists party, stated that the event and speech ‘served only to cement Bidzina Ivanishvili’s power’ in the upcoming parliamentary elections, as Ivanishvili ‘openly explained’ that any critics of the ruling party were ‘part of the global war party’. 

She also dismissed Ivanishvili’s repeated criticism of the United National Movement — the political party in power for eight years prior to Georgian Dream. 

Lelo’s MP Salome Samadashvili asserted in the plenary session that ‘Ivanishvili and his Russian regime’ had no future in Georgia, accusing Ivanishvili of announcing that he was going to turn into a ‘provincial Lukashenka’, referring to the autocratic President of Belarus whose government has violently repressed any opposition, and crushed a wave of mass public protests in 2020–2021. 

Some highlighted the conspiracy theories put forward by  Ivanishvili, with Girchi — New Political Centre party MP Vakhtang Megrelishvili claiming that the speech made clear that Georgia was ‘the only country in the world that is governed on the basis of conspiracy theories’. 

‘It turned out that since 2004 we have been ruled by “Masons”, “Masons rule the world” – that’s what we heard’, Megrelishvili said, referring to Ivanishvili’s claim that the ‘global war party’ had run Georgia under the previous government. 

Giorgi Vashadze, the head of Strategy Aghmashenebeli, described Bidzina Ivanishvili as ‘an incompetent dictator’ who devoted his speech to ‘threatening the Georgian people’. 

‘The millions spent to forcibly bring these people to Tbilisi was a clear confirmation that Georgian Dream has no support left’, added Vashadze.

30 Apr 2024, 19:04

Group launched to provide accommodation for visiting protesters 

A volunteer group called ‘Daitove’ (‘Host’) has been created to allow people from outside of Tbilisi to participate in the protests against the draft foreign agent law. 

Volunteers in the Facebook group offer free accommodation in their homes to people looking to attend the protests. At the time of publication, the group had more than 4,000 members.

30 Apr 2024, 17:17

Georgia’s Foreign Minister meets with European Commission Vice President

Georgia’s Foreign Minister, Ilia Darchiashvili, is currently in Brussels for the 20th anniversary of EU enlargement. Darchiashvili has met with European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová, who posted on X that they had discussed the foreign agent law.

Jourová was condemned online for echoing the ruling party’s rhetoric regarding transparency in her tweet.  

30 Apr 2024, 16:28

Plenary discussion of foreign agent bill begins

The foreign agent bill is now being discussed in its second plenary session in parliament.

30 Apr 2024, 15:59

Civil society organisations call on ‘every Georgian citizen’ to attend tonight’s protest

A group of civil society organisations have called on people to attend tonight’s protest.

The organisations stated that while civil society organisations had ‘for weeks’ been explaining why the foreign agent law was ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘the end of Georgian democracy’, the government had even more clearly laid out the law’s ‘harmful consequences’ at Monday’s pro-government rally. 

‘The government has openly stated that by adopting the Russian law, they plan to announce repressions against the people. They announce election rigging, censorship, and a Soviet-style totalitarian regime’, the statement reads. ‘They stated that they see the West as the enemy, and the occupying country of our country, Russia, was not even mentioned in this context.’ 

‘Everyone clearly understood that the purpose of the adoption of the Russian law is not the notorious “transparency”, but a change of the country's foreign course and the completion of Russification.’

The statement concluded by calling on ‘every citizen of Georgia’ to gather in front of Tbilisi’s parliament at 19:00, in protest against the planned second plenary hearing of the foreign agent law.

Civil society organisations making the announcement. Photo: Gela Bochikashvili / RFE/RL

30 Apr 2024, 14:37

Batumi City Council protest

Opposition members of Batumi City Council attended today’s meeting wearing shirts with ‘No to the Russian law’ written on them, and carrying signs saying ‘No to Russia, Yes to Europe’.

Photo: Batumelebi.

30 Apr 2024, 14:20

President and Prime Minister exchange accusations at army celebrations

President Salome Zourabichvili has suggested that the ruling party is ‘doing conscious harm’ by trying to portray Georgia’s long-time allies as a ‘party of war’. In her address to the Georgian military on the 33rd anniversary of its creation, Zourabichvili said that ‘the one who sows conflict and provocation goes against own army and homeland too’. 

Zourabichvili added that ‘the Georgian army knows best who is the enemy’. 

In response, Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze refused to greet Zourabichvili, and called her a traitor in his speech.

30 Apr 2024, 13:53

US House Georgia Caucasus: ‘Incredibly concerning’

The co-chairs of the US House of Representatives’ Georgia Caucasus, Democratic Congressperson Gerry Connolly and Republican Congressperson Austin Scott, have released a joint statement calling the draft foreign agent law ‘incredibly concerning’.

They compared the bill to Russia’s foreign agent law.

‘In 2012, after taking power for a third term, Vladimir Putin signed a “Foreign Agents Law” to require organisations engaged in political activity and receiving foreign funding to register as foreign agents’, the statement says. ‘Putin used this “Foreign Agents Law” to drastically curb free speech, all but eliminate Russian civil society, and further solidify his brutal rule as a dictator.’ 

‘It is incredibly concerning for the Republic of Georgia, a democratic partner of the United States that has received EU candidate status, to introduce and advance legislation that mimics Putin’s same anti-democratic instrument. We continue to support the Georgian people in their path to Euro-Atlantic inclusion and urge leaders to heed their calls for a flourishing and unimpeded civil society, independent judiciary, and a government that respects the rule of law and holds those who engage in corruption accountable. Unfortunately, a “Foreign Agents Law” similar to that of Vladimir Putin’s, diverts Georgia from that path.’

30 Apr 2024, 12:26

Key events from yesterday

A ruling party rally, organised as a counterpoint to mass protests against the foreign agent law that have rocked Tbilisi for weeks, was held on Monday evening. Attendees were bussed in from across Georgia, reaching an estimated peak of around 98,000. 

Those in attendance swiftly dispersed after Georgian Dream founder and honorary chair Bidzina Ivanishvili’s speech; a contrast to anti-government protests that have reliably continued late into the night. Independent and opposition media also claimed that streetlights were turned off on streets adjacent to the event, to make the crowd appear larger. 

Ivanishvili’s speech focused on a number of conspiracy theories, primarily that foreign forces were attempting to drag Georgia into conflict, and had controlled Georgia from 2004–2012, during the United National Movement (UNM)’s time in power. He also made multiple references to the upcoming October parliamentary elections, suggesting both that the government’s recent controversial legislative measures were aimed at ensuring the ruling party’s reelection, and claiming that the UNM would be ‘punished’ after Georgian Dream’s reelection. 

A small anti-government protest was held in a different part of the city, after opposition groups warned protesters to avoid the government rally out of safety concerns.

Senior officials addressed the crowd. Photo: Tata Shoshiashvili/OC Media.