Georgian MP punches opponent in face in brawl over ‘foreign agents’ bill | Georgia

Georgian politicians have come to blows in parliament as ruling party legislators looked to advance a controversial bill on “foreign agents” that has been criticised by western countries and prompted protests at home.

Footage broadcast on Monday on Georgian television showed Mamuka Mdinaradze, leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party’s parliamentary faction and a driving force behind the bill, being punched in the face by the opposition MP Aleko Elisashvili while speaking from the dispatch box.

The incident prompted a wider brawl between several legislators, an occasional occurrence in Georgia’s often raucous parliament. Footage showed Elisashvili being greeted with cheers by protesters outside the parliament building.

Georgian Dream said earlier this month it would reintroduce legislation requiring organisations that accept funds from abroad to register as “foreign agents” or face fines, 13 months after protests forced it to shelve the plan.

The bill has strained relations with European countries and the US, which have said they oppose its passage. The EU, which gave Georgia candidate status in December, has said the move is incompatible with the bloc’s values.

Georgian Dream says it wants the country to join the EU and Nato, even as it has deepened ties with Russia and faced accusations of authoritarianism at home. It says the bill is necessary to combat what it calls “pseudo-liberal values” imposed by foreigners and to promote transparency.

Georgia’s government said the prime minister, Irakli Kobakhidze, held a meeting on Monday with the EU, British and US ambassadors at which they discussed the bill.

In a statement, Kobakhidze defended the draft law as promoting accountability and said it was “not clear” why western countries opposed it.

Georgian critics have labelled the bill “the Russian law”, comparing it to similar legislation used by the Kremlin to crack down on dissent in Russia. Russia is unpopular in Georgia, due to Moscow’s support for the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia defeated Georgia in a short war in 2008.

Several hundred demonstrators gathered outside the parliament building before a mass protest that civil society organisations called for Monday evening.

Once approved by members of the legislature’s legal affairs committee, which is controlled by Georgian Dream and its allies, the bill can proceed to a first reading in parliament.

Georgia is due to hold elections by October. Opinion polls show Georgian Dream remains the most popular party, but it has lost ground since 2020, when it won a narrow majority.

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