(Tbilisi) Several thousand Georgians gathered in front of parliament in Tbilisi on Sunday evening to protest against a Russian-inspired bill on “foreign influence”, despite warnings and threats from the government.

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, then Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri, warned the demonstrators.

“I would like to warn all members of radical opposition groups that they will have to answer for their acts of violence before the courts,” warned Mr. Kobakhidze.

The Minister of the Interior was even more explicit: “Blocking an object of particular importance in a group is punishable by up to four years in prison,” he assured.

And he added: “We will use this article against lawbreakers, without any exceptions.”

The authorities also presented the demonstrators, made up largely of young people, as violent crowds.

But the demonstrators, who for weeks have been led by young Georgians, far from being discouraged, showed themselves determined to oppose a decried bill.

“As students, we don’t see a future with this Russian law,” said Nadezhda Polyakova, 20, who was born and raised in Georgia but is of Russian descent.

Students at several universities in Tbilisi have announced a strike starting Monday.

Outside Parliament, many said they had no plans to back down, while hoping for a peaceful night.

“I won’t move from here. This is my 35th day of protest and I will stay here all night,” said student Vakhtang Rukhaia. “I’m furious, angry.”

“I think we have no choice but to be here,” said Ana Magradze, a 39-year-old doctor.

For her part, the pro-EU Georgian president, Salomé Zourabichvili, in conflict with the government, called on the demonstrators to be vigilant.

“I want to address you (the demonstrators) so that you know […] There are plans that will not really work, but there are plans to organize provocations and involve you,” he said. she declared, without going into details.

“So stay very careful, which does not mean you should be afraid,” she added.

The bill must pass a third reading in parliament and President Zurabichvili is expected to veto it.

The ruling Georgian Dream party, however, has enough votes to override it.

On Saturday, there were already several thousand in the city center of the Georgian capital, including many young people, to say “No to Russian law! », in reference to this text inspired by Russian legislation used by the Kremlin to repress dissident voices.

The text, an initiative of the Georgian Dream, by the wealthy Bidzina Ivanishvili, is seen as an obstacle on Georgia’s path towards membership in the European Union, which has sharply criticized it.

If passed, the law will require any NGO or media organization receiving more than 20 percent of its funding from abroad to register as an “organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power.”

The government assures that this measure aims to force organizations to demonstrate more “transparency” about their funding.

Many NGOs in the country have denounced the bill, which Mr. Ivanishvili, 68, defends with conviction against what he judges to be “a pseudo-elite nurtured by a foreign country.”

The demonstrators, who have already organized several rallies in downtown Tbilisi in recent weeks, brandishing flags of Georgia and the European Union, even Ukrainian flags, see the hand of Russia behind the text.

The tension between supporters and opponents of the text rose a notch on Saturday, during a large-scale gathering of its detractors, although peaceful.

Because if the opposition has shown its unity against the text, the ruling party does not seem ready to back down at this stage, causing yet another political crisis in this small Caucasian country accustomed to turmoil.

Representatives of NGOs have claimed to have been threatened or intimidated in recent days, described as “foreign agents” by the law’s most fervent defenders.

The law on “foreign influence” was first introduced by the Georgian Dream in 2023. But massive protests had already forced the government to shelve it.

His return, at the beginning of April, created a surprise and aroused the anger of many Georgians, particularly the youngest.

These unrest comes a few months before legislative elections in October, considered an important test for democracy in this former Soviet republic.

In December 2023, the EU granted Georgia official candidate status but said Tbilisi should carry out reforms to its judicial and electoral systems, increase press freedom and limit the power of oligarchs before negotiations membership are officially launched.