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US imposes visa restrictions on Georgian nationals it said undermined democracy

Published 06/06/2024, 02:00 PM
Updated 06/06/2024, 07:50 PM

By Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Thursday imposed visa restrictions on a few dozen Georgian nationals it accused of undermining democracy, including members of the Georgian Dream party and members of parliament and law enforcement, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

A government minister in the ex-Soviet South Caucasus nation called the decision "yet another mistake" by Washington.

Georgia last month passed a "foreign agent" bill that has stirred street protests from opponents who decry it as authoritarian and Russian-inspired. The Georgian Dream party that controls parliament says the legislation is needed to ensure transparency in foreign funding of NGOs and protect the country's sovereignty.

The legislation requires organizations receiving more than 20% of their funding from overseas to register as "agents of foreign influence," and introduces fines for violations as well as onerous disclosure requirements.

Washington, which has long criticized the law, launched a review into bilateral cooperation with Georgia and announced a new visa ban policy.

The first tranche of restrictions was imposed on Thursday on up to three dozen people, including members of Georgian Dream, members of parliament, law enforcement and private citizens, Miller said. He declined to name any of those targeted.

"This includes individuals responsible for or complicit in ... undermining democracy and Georgia, such as by undermining freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, violently attacking peaceful protesters, intimidating civil society representatives and deliberately spreading disinformation at the direction of the Georgian government," he said.

The United States hopes Georgia's leaders will reconsider their actions, Miller said. If not, he warned the U.S. is prepared to take additional actions.

Russia's Tass news agency said Thea Tsulukiani, Georgian deputy prime minister and minister of culture, told the Imedi television channel: "This is yet another mistake which, to their regret and our regret, the United States is making with regard to its strategic partners.

"It's probably not the first mistake. And we have to assume that there will be others."

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