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Georgians protest against draft law on media, nonprofits

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Georgian authorities used tear gas and water cannon outside the parliament building in the capital Tuesday against protesters who oppose a proposed law some see as stifling freedom of the press.

The law, which has received initial approval, would require media outlets and nongovernmental organizations that receive more than 20% of their funding from foreign sources to register as “agents of foreign influence.”

International organizations have voiced concern over the draft law, saying it runs against Georgia’s democratic development.

Thousands of people have been massing for days in Tbilisi to protest the proposed law, and a fight broke out at one point among lawmakers. A police statement said several law enforcement officers have been injured. Protesters have also reported injuries.

While Georgia's president, Salome Zurabishvili, has said she would veto the bill, its authors say it's needed for the transparency of the work of entities financed by representatives of foreign states. Parliament can override presidential vetoes.

In a video she shot with New York's Statue of Liberty visible in the background, Zurabishvili supported the protesters.

“I am standing in New York, and behind me is the Statue of Liberty. This is is a symbol for which Georgia has always fought, for which we have come to this day. I am with you, because today you represent free Georgia. Georgia, which sees its future in Europe and will not give anyone the right to take this future. This law must be abolished in any form."

In Russia, a foreign agent law is often used to shut down organizations and news outlets that report voices critical of the government. Georgian civil activists and opposition representatives have blocked both entrances to the parliament building, chanting: “No to Russian law!” “Russians!” “Slaves!”

The European Union has warned Georgia that by adopting this law it would harm its prospects of ever joining the bloc.

Khatia Dekanoidze, a member of the opposition National Movement Rally, told parliament: “Everyone should understand that saving our country, saving our young generation, saving our future lies only through the European path.”