Thousands of Georgians gather at concert for arrested protesters

Thousands of people gathered in Tbilisi's central Republic square for an outdoor concert by Georgian bands and singers (Vano SHLAMOV)
Thousands of people gathered in Tbilisi's central Republic square for an outdoor concert by Georgian bands and singers (Vano SHLAMOV)

Thousands of Georgians gathered Sunday in the capital Tbilisi for a charity concert aimed at raising funds for those arrested during weeks of protests against a controversial "foreign influence" law.

On Tuesday, Georgia's parliament adopted the divisive law, overcoming a presidential veto on the bill which critics say mirrors Russian legislation used by Moscow to silence dissent.

Brussels and Washington have warned the move will derail the Black Sea nation from its path to European Union membership.

It has sparked nearly two months of daily protests that saw police use tear gas and water cannon to disperse rallies, beating and arresting demonstrators.

On Sunday evening, thousands of people gathered in Tbilisi's central Republic square for an outdoor concert by Georgian bands and singers.

Organisers said it was aimed at "collecting donations for demonstrators arrested during the protests."

Many at the concert voiced anger at the ruling Georgian Dream party which faces mounting accusations of leading Georgia away from its Western trajectory and back to Russia's orbit.

"They have locked up some of us, but we will prevail -- Georgian Dream is counting its last months in power," said 38-year-old graphic engineer Nico Ladaria.

"They have passed the Russian-style law against the will of the Georgian people and despite clear warnings that it kills Georgia's EU membership prospects," he told AFP.

The law forces NGOs and media organisations receiving at least a fifth of their funding from abroad to register as "organisations pursuing the interests of a foreign power."

Georgian Dream insists it is committed to Georgia's European aspirations and says the law will ensure "transparency" concerning Western-funded groups which it says undermine the country's sovereignty.

Georgian activists, independent journalists and opposition politicians accuse the government of a concerted campaign of violence and threats.

Tensions have risen ahead of October's parliamentary elections, seen as a key democratic test.

Georgia's EU bid is enshrined in the country's constitution and supported -- according to opinion polls -- by more than 80 percent of population.

im/rlp