Fight breaks out between politicians as Georgia's 'foreign power’ bill passed

ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports from Tbilisi on the latest developments

A fight broke out between politicians in the Georgian parliament as a divisive bill, which critics see as a threat to democratic freedoms, was passed through in its final reading.

The "foreign powers" legislation will force non-governmental organisations in receipt of more than 20% of their funding from outside the country to register as "pursuing the interests of a foreign power".

Georgian Dream, the governing party, pushed through the new law on Tuesday.

It will now be sent to President Salome Zourabichvili and she has 14 days to either veto or approve it.

Watch the moment that riot police clash with protestors

She is increasingly at odds with the governing party and has vowed to veto the law, but Georgian Dream has a majority sufficient to override a presidential veto.

As the lawmakers began debating the bill on Tuesday, a large crowd of demonstrators gathered in front of the parliament to protest once again, with a heavy presence of riot police at the site.

Over the weekend, thousands poured into the streets of the Georgian capital Tbilisi, and many stayed in front of the parliament building until Monday morning.

Footage shows Georgian politicians fighting during a parliament session

Inside the parliament, the debate was interrupted by a brawl. Georgian Dream MP Dimitry Samkharadze was seen charging toward Levan Khabeishvili, the chairman of the main opposition party United National Movement, after Khabeishvili accused him of organising mobs to beat up opposition supporters.

In recent days, several protesters and opposition members have been beaten up. The opposition linked the incidents to the protests.

Police detain a protestor near Georgia's parliament building, in Tbilisi. Credit: AP

Why is it so controversial?

Activists have denounced the bill as "Russian law" because Moscow uses similar legislation to crack down on independent news media, nonprofits and activists critical of the Kremlin.

Many Georgians fear their foreign agents bill will be used the same way it has been in its northern neighbour: to quash dissent and free expression by going after non-governmental organisations with financial ties overseas.

But the government insists the bill is needed to stem what it deems as harmful foreign influence over the country's politics.

The bill is nearly identical to one that Georgia's government was pressured to withdraw last year after widespread protests.

The law's passage has touched on the question of whether Georgia's future lies with Europe or Russia.

Riot police block a street to prevent demonstrators during an opposition protest against 'the Russian law'. Credit: AP

Georgia has, like Ukraine, been caught between the two geopolitical forces since achieving independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Many Georgians feel deep hostility toward the Kremlin, which invaded Georgia in 2008 and occupies about 20% of its internationally recognised territory - about the same proportion that Russia occupies in Ukraine.

Georgian Dream has long been accused of harbouring a pro-Russian attitude, especially given that its billionaire founder, former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili made his fortune in the Soviet Union.

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