Georgia lawmakers scuffle over a divisive bill that opponents say mimics Kremlin’s repressive law

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TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Lawmakers in Georgia’s legislature scuffled on Monday as the parliament debated a divisive new law dubbed the foreign agent bill. Hours later, hundreds of people protested against the legislation outside the parliament in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.

The draft — proposed by the ruling Georgian Dream party — calls for media and non-commercial organizations to register as being under foreign influence if they receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad.

Opponents of the measure denounce it as “the Russian law” because of similar legislation used by Moscow to stigmatize independent news media and organizations seen as being at odds with the Kremlin.

Video shared online shows the leader of the Georgian Dream lawmakers, Mamuka Mdinaradze, being punched in the face while speaking by an opposition lawmaker who rushed up to the podium. Several other lawmakers from opposing sides then join in the brawl, scuffling and wrestling with each other.

The bill is nearly identical to a proposal that the governing party was pressured to withdraw a year ago after large street protests. On Monday, protesters sang patriotic songs and shouted “slaves” outside the parliament, suggesting the house was bending to pressure from Russia.

Those who oppose the measure say passing the law would obstruct Georgia’s aim of joining the European Union, which last year granted the country long-desired candidate status.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze had a meeting Monday with the American, British and EU ambassadors to discuss the bill, the government said.

The law says non-commercial organizations and news media that receive 20% or more of their funding from overseas would have to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” — the only change in wording from the draft law withdrawn last year, which said that relevant groups must register as “agents of foreign influence.”

Georgia’s President Salome Zourabichvili would veto the law if it is passed by parliament, her parliamentary representative Girogi Mskhiladze has previously said.

But that veto might not be long-lasting as Zourabichvili’s term ends this year and under Georgia’s constitution changes, the next president will be named by an electoral college that includes all members of parliament.

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