Thousands demonstrate against Georgia’s ‘foreign agent’ bill.

Protesters clashed with police in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, after parliament approved a contentious draft law that critics say limits press freedom and suppresses civil society.

Riot police dispersed the crowds outside the parliament building with water cannons and pepper spray.

Some protesters were seen coughing and falling to the ground, while others waved EU and Georgian flags.

According to the government, 50 police officers were injured, and police equipment was damaged.

During Tuesday’s action, police arrested 66 people, including one of Georgia’s opposition leaders, Zurab Japaridze, who was reportedly beaten.

The bill has received widespread international condemnation. Non-governmental and media organizations that receive more than 20% of their funding from outside sources would be required to declare themselves as “foreign agents,” or face hefty fines and possible imprisonment.

According to the opposition, the Russian-style law represents a shift toward authoritarianism and would harm Georgia’s chances of joining the EU. On Wednesday, there will be more protests.

Hours earlier, police had issued a repeated message over loudspeakers warning protesters to disperse. Officers in riot gear eventually cleared the Rustaveli Avenue, the main thoroughfare outside parliament.

US state department spokesman Ned Price said the draft legislation would be a tremendous setback and “would strike at some of the very rights that are central to the aspirations of the people of Georgia”.

The EU is currently considering Georgia’s application for candidate status and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned that the bill was “incompatible with EU values and standards”.

In 2012, Russia passed its own version of a “foreign agents” law, which has since been expanded to target and suppress Western-funded NGOs and media.

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