US issues visa restrictions, comprehensive review over Georgia 'foreign agent' bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is introducing new visa restrictions on Georgia and launching a review of bilateral cooperation between the countries over a "foreign agent" bill passed by the Georgian parliament this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday.

Blinken, announcing the actions in a statement, said the law would "stifle the exercise of freedoms of association and expression" and impede independent media organizations' work.

The legislation sparked major protests in Georgia, with opponents decrying it as authoritarian and Russian-inspired. The Georgian ruling party says it is needed to ensure transparency in foreign funding of NGOs and protect the country's sovereignty.

The visa restriction policy will apply to individuals Blinken said were "responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia", as well as their family members.

"As we review the relationship between our two countries, we will take into account Georgia's actions in deciding our own," Blinken added.

Earlier on Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Washington of blackmailing Georgia.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Costas Pitas and Ismail Shakil; editing by Diane Craft)