The president and prime minister of Georgia on Sunday lashed out at each other at a ceremony marking the country’s independence day as strong tensions persist over a law that critics say will obstruct media freedom and damage Georgia’s bid to join the European Union.

The measure would require media and non-governmental organizations to register as “carrying out the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of their budget from abroad. Opponents denounce it as “the Russian law” because of similar regulations there.

Large protests have repeatedly been held in the capital Tbilisi as the measure made its way through parliament. After the legislature passed the bill, President Salome Zourabichvili vetoed it on May 18, but the Georgian Dream party of Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze and its backers have enough votes in parliament to override the veto.

“As the specter of Russia looms over us, partnership and rapprochement with Europe are the true path to preserving and strengthening our independence and peace. Those who sabotage and undermine this path trample upon and damage the peaceful and secure future of our country, hindering the path towards becoming a full member of the free and democratic world,” Zourabichvili said at the ceremony celebrating the 106th anniversary of Georgia’s declaration of independence from Russia.

At the same ceremony, Kobakhidze lauded Georgia’s development and sharply criticized Zourabichvili.

“It was the unity and reasonable steps of the people and their elected government that gave us the opportunity to maintain peace in the country for the past two years despite existential threats and multiple betrayals, including the betrayal of the president of Georgia.” he said.

In the evening, thousands of opponents of the measure marched along one of the main avenues of the capital. Some previous demonstrations against the law have brought clashes between protesters and police.

The European Union’s foreign policy arm has said “the adoption of this law negatively impacts Georgia’s progress on the EU path.” Critics say it may have been driven by Russia to thwart Georgia’s chances of further integrating with the West.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday announced that travel sections would be imposed on Georgian officials “who are responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia” and “it remains our hope that Georgia’s leaders will reconsider the draft law and take steps to move forward with their nation’s democratic and Euro-Atlantic aspirations.”

By Admins

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