Pro-Western party leader ‘beaten by police’ during protest in Tbilisi – opposition

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Georgia’s main opposition party says its leader has been severely beaten by police during a protest outside the country’s parliament building in Tbilisi. 

The incident reportedly occurred on Tuesday night when a demonstration sparked by a renewed attempt to pass a controversial ‘foreign agents’ bill descended into clashes with police, with officers using batons and water cannons to disperse the crowd.

The pro-Western United National Movement (UNM) said its chairman, Levan Khabeishvili, had been kidnapped by security officials when he was “helping an injured citizen at the rally.” The party urged for his immediate release. 

Khabeishvili, a sitting MP who has led the UNM since February 2023, posted a photo of himself with bruises on his face and a black eye. The image was retweeted on X (formerly Twitter) by his party.

According to Georgia’s First Channel, after the initial clashes, protesters began erecting barricades a few blocks away from the parliament building, using benches and garbage containers. 

The Interior Ministry released a statement saying police were forced to break up the crowd after the rally became violent, with protesters hurling objects at the officers. Three officers were injured, the Health Ministry said. 

President Salome Zourabichvili accused the police of excessive force. “I call on the interior minister to immediately stop the suppression of a peaceful protest,” she wrote on Facebook. 

The ruling Georgian Dream party first tried to introduce the legislation known as the bill ‘On the Transparency of Foreign Influence’ last year. However, it was soon withdrawn following violent protests.

The current version of the bill would require organizations that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as ‘foreign agents’.

The opposition branded the proposed legislation a ‘Russian law’, and accused Georgian Dream of modeling it on a law introduced by Moscow in 2012. 

The ruling party argued that it actually drew inspiration from the US Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, and insisted that the law is needed to combat “pseudo-liberal values” promoted by foreigners.