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Georgian police arrested 63 people after thousands of pro-European Union protesters gathered in the capital Tbilisi this week to denounce a “foreign influence” bill that critics say undermines the Caucasus nation’s aspirations to join the 27-nation bloc, Agence France Presse reported.

The detentions followed clashes between authorities and demonstrators in which police deployed tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse people blocking key roads outside the parliament and in other areas of Tbilisi.

Opposition leader and lawmaker Levan Khabeishvili was also severely beaten, according to his allies.

Authorities claimed they used “legitimate force” only after the demonstrations “turned violent and demonstrators entered into verbal and physical confrontation with law enforcement.”

Georgia has been hit with demonstrations for nearly a month after the ruling Georgian Dream party reintroduced plans for a new bill that would require any independent nongovernmental organization or media entity that obtains more than 20 percent of its funding from abroad to register as an “organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power.”

The governing party first proposed the measure last year but dropped it following mass protests.

Officials have said the bill is aimed at increasing transparency of foreign funding for civil society groups. However, critics and opposition lawmakers have countered that the draft legislation resembles a “foreign agents” law in neighboring Russia.

The bill’s passage could further strain Georgia’s relations with the West, particularly the EU. The EU has granted the Caucasus country official candidate status but has also demanded significant reforms before formal membership talks can begin.

The bloc has warned that the proposed law “is not consistent with Georgia’s bid for EU membership” and that it “will bring Georgia further away from the EU.”

The bill is currently in its second reading in parliament. To become law, it needs to pass a third time and obtain a presidential signature. A veto is expected from President Salome Zurabishvili – a critic of the governing party. However, observers noted that the ruling party has enough parliamentary seats to override it.

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