Georgia's ruling party announced Thursday, March 9, the withdrawal of a bill targeting NGOs and the media, which has sparked massive protests that have been harshly repressed in the Caucasus country over the past two days. "As the party of government responsible to every member of society, we have decided to unconditionally withdraw this bill which we supported," the Georgian Dream Party said in a statement posted on its website.
The announcement comes a day after massive protests in the capital Tbilisi saw police use tear gas canisters and water cannons to disperse tens of thousands of people gathered near parliament.
The protest movement was triggered by the adoption on Tuesday at first reading of a bill providing that NGOs and media receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad are obliged to register as "foreign agents", on pain of a fine.
For its critics, this text is inspired by a similar law that exists in Russia, where the Kremlin uses it to repress the independent press, human rights organizations and their opponents. In its statement, the Georgian Dream party said the bill was "misrepresented in a bad light", adding that it would launch public consultations to "better explain" the purpose of the text.
The party in power is therefore not completely closing the door to a future return of this bill to Parliament. The demonstrations that rocked Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday are part of a broader context of political crisis in this Caucasian country.
Georgian opposition parties announced on Thursday that they would continue to demonstrate against the government despite the withdrawal of the bill. The mobilization "will not stop until there is a guarantee that Georgia is firmly on a pro-Western path", several opposition parties said in a joint statement, calling for new rallies Thursday evening and the release of dozens of detained protesters.
The European Union delegation to Georgia on Thursday welcomed the announcement of the withdrawal. "We welcome the ruling party's announcement of the withdrawal of the 'foreign influence' bill," the EU delegation in Tbilisi said on Twitter. "We encourage all political leaders in Georgia to resume pro-European reforms," she added. For its part, the Kremlin said it was "concerned" by the demonstrations while ensuring that it had "nothing to do" with the bill. “The situation there can only be of concern to us. Of course, it is important for us that peace reigns along our borders,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
This former Soviet republic, marked by a Russian military intervention in 2008, officially aims to join the EU and NATO, an orientation taken after the Rose Revolution in 2003. This revolution brought to power the pro-Western Mikhail Saakashvili, who is now in prison from where he denounces political revenge. But several recent moves by the current government, such as the "Foreign Agents" bill, have cast doubt on continued pro-Western aspirations, with the opposition accusing it of backing Moscow.