Sat. May 25th, 2024

Georgia’s government on Sunday issued a warning to protesters that it would arrest anyone who blocked the parliament, ahead of an expected late-evening rally against a Russian-style “foreign agent” bill.

Demonstrations have gripped the tiny Caucasus country for weeks over a bill targeting NGOs, dubbed the “Russian law” as it mirrors repressive legislation used by the Kremlin to silence critics. 

Protesters are due to gather outside parliament in Tbilisi late in the evening, with many planning to stay through the night.

“Group blocking of an object of special importance is punishable by up to four years in prison,” Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri said. 

“We are going to use this article against lawbreakers without any exemption,” he warned.

The protest will come a day after tens of thousands gathered in Tbilisi’s Europe Square. Protesters said they planned to continue holding rallies, with the government appearing intent on passing the law in the coming days. 

“I want to warn everyone from the radical groups of opposition that everyone will be held accountable to the law for violence,” Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze warned. 

Authorities have presented protesters — largely made up of young people — as violent mobs. 

“At the same time, I would like to ask the law enforcement officers to show maximum patience and act with a higher standard than it is in Europe,” Kobakhidze added. 

Saturday’s rally was peaceful, with rock music blasting out from the stage, but night-time demonstrations have been dispersed in the past. 

Powerful billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili and his ruling Georgian Dream party have said NGOs are a threat to Georgian sovereignty, accusing them of plotting a revolution and working on behalf of foreign governments. 

The stand-off over the bill has created one of the most unpredictable and tense political moments in Georgia in recent years.

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