Georgian president vetoes 'Russian law'

Russian President Salome Zourabichvili has vetoed the controversial 'foreign influence' law. The law passed by Parliament last week led to large demonstrations in recent weeks. The Georgian Dream government and parliament can overturn the president's veto.

The European Union has also warned the Georgian authorities in vain in recent weeks against adopting the law, described as pro-Russian. That could undermine Tbilisi's EU aspirations. Georgia is scheduled to start accession negotiations with Brussels.

The ruling Georgian Dream party nevertheless passed the legislation last week. Tens of thousands of demonstrators fear that the ex-Soviet republic will deviate from a pro-Western course and return to Russia's spheres of influence.

According to recent opinion polls, more than three-quarters of the population wants the country to join the European Union and NATO. “Today I vetoed the law, which is essentially Russian and contradicts our Constitution,” President Zourabichvili said in a televised statement. The law has many similarities to Russian legislation used to silence dissent.

Brussels has said the measure is “incompatible” with Georgia's push for EU membership, which is enshrined in the country's constitution. EU President Charles Michel said the president's veto provides "a moment for further reflection." He called on parliament to “make good use of this opportunity” to keep Georgia on the EU path.

Georgian Dream has enough MPs in parliament to override the veto. Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze has said his party is willing to consider changes to the law. But the president - who is at odds with the ruling party - refuses to enter into "false, artificial, misleading negotiations" with Georgian Dream.

The controversial "Russian law" requires organizations and media outlets that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad to register as bodies "pursuing the interests of a foreign power."