Georgia’s opposition leader punches lawmaker during debate

A scuffle erupted in Georgia’s assembly on Monday as two members of parliament engaged in fisticuffs over a controversial law that has sparked debate in the country.

After widespread protest and international criticisms last year, Georgia’s ruling party withdrew what many called the “Russian-style” draft law.

However, earlier this month, the government announced it would reintroduce the legislation, renaming it a bill on the “transparency of foreign influence”.

The bill would require non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and media outlets that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad, to register as an “organisation serving the interests of a foreign power”, or face possible fines.

Irakli Kobakhidze, prime minister, said the proposed law was needed to ensure the financial transparency of grant recipients.

However, critics argue that the bill is inspired by authoritarian laws neighbouring Russia uses to crush dissent and is an attempt to sabotage the country’s chances of joining the European Union (EU).

The Georgian government has rejected any comparison to the Russian legislation.

The parliamentary session turned chaotic when opposition MPs, concerned about the bill’s potential impact on Georgian sovereignty, clashed with supporters of the legislation.

“I agree that no Russian laws should be adopted in Georgia,” Mamuka Mdinaradze, parliamentary leader of Georgian Dream, the ruling party, said during the debate.

Shortly afterwards, Aleko Elisashvili, opposition MP, charged at Mdinaradze and punched him in the face, triggering a brawl in parliament.

The scuffle came as thousands of people demonstrated in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, demanding the withdrawal of the bill.

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