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US issues new visa restrictions, will review relationship with Georgia in response to ‘foreign agents’ bill

By Piper Hudspeth Blackburn and Jennifer Hansler, CNN

(CNN) — The US State Department is implementing a new visa restriction policy in response to a repressive law and crackdowns on protests in Georgia, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Thursday.

Blinken, who noted that he hopes the country’s leaders will reconsider the so-called “foreign agents” bill, said the new visa policy would target “individuals who are responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia, as well as their family members.”

“This includes individuals responsible for suppressing civil society and freedom of peaceful assembly in Georgia through a campaign of violence or intimidation,” he said in a statement. The United States will also launch a review of its bilateral cooperation with Georgia, Blinken added.

The move comes nearly a week after Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili vetoed the bill, which would require organizations receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as “agents of foreign influence” or face fines.

The country’s parliament can still overrule her veto by a simple majority.

Georgia’s parliament approved the bill on May 14, with 84 lawmakers voting in favor and 30 against, despite widespread opposition in the nation. Georgian Dream, the ruling party that helmed the legislation, has insisted that it promotes transparency and national sovereignty, while critics argue that it is modeled after laws in Russia used to stamp out opposition.

“This law, in its essence and spirit, is fundamentally Russian, contradicting our constitution and all European standards,” Zourabichvili said after vetoing the bill.

The European Union has warned the bill would imperil the country’s chances of joining the bloc if it becomes law. Georgia, a small country nestled in the Caucasus Mountains, applied for EU membership in 2022 and was granted candidate status late last year.

The bill has found resistance both in and outside of the country’s parliament. Thousands have marched in the streets of the Georgian capital against the bill. Fights and shouting matches broke out during the debate on the bill. Masked officers clashed with crowds shortly after it passed.

Zourabichvili told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last week the upcoming elections in October will give the population a chance to “reverse” the bill. “

“We have to use this mobilization of the society and this consolidation of the political parties to go and win those elections because that’s the European way,” she said.

CNN’s Michael Rios, Ekaterine Kadagishvili, Joshua Berlinger, Jessie Gretener and Amy Cassidy contributed to this report.

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