Violent Clashes Erupt in Georgia Parliament Over Bill

( – On April 15, Georgia’s parliament erupted with violence when opposition MP Aleko Elisashvili, 46, punched the leader of Georgian Dream party’s parliamentary faction, Mamuka Mdinaradze, 45, in the face while he was addressing the chamber.

The incident occurred during a discussion of a controversial “foreign agents” bill, which has been criticized by the bill’s opponents as being a “Putin-style” import from Russia, likening it to the Kremlin’s efforts to crack-down on dissidents. Supporters of the bill say it is necessary to combat what it calls “pseudo-liberal values” imposed by foreigners. According to a draft submitted, the bill requires that media and non-commercial organizations that receive more than 20 percent of their budget from abroad register as being under foreign influence. The bill is similar to one proposed and withdrawn by the governing Georgian Dream party last year after large street protests.

A driving force behind a controversial law that was being discussed, a video shows Mdinaradze falling over after being punched. Lawmakers on opposing sides are seen on the video jumping up from their desks, joining in the fight by trading punches.

Following the fight, Elisashvili was greeted by cheers from protesters outside the parliament building. Over 5,000 protesters chanting “Russians! Russians!” had gathered outside the parliament building to demand the government withdraw the legislation.

The fight occurred while Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze was in a meeting discussing the legislation with ambassadors from the European Union, Britain, and the United States. Kobakhidze defended the proposal as promoting accountability, adding that it is “not clear” why Western countries are opposed to it.

After members of the Georgian Dream party-controlled legal affairs committee approved the foreign agents bill on April 16, it now proceeds to a first reading in parliament.

If parliament passes the law, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili said she would veto it, according to her parliamentary representative Girogi Mskhiladze.

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