Georgia’s parliament speaker signs a divisive foreign influence bill into law

Georgia’s parliament speaker signs a divisive foreign influence bill into law
Demonstrators were out in force protesting the “foreign influence” law on Sunday. (Vano SHLAMOV / AFP)
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Updated 03 June 2024
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Georgia’s parliament speaker signs a divisive foreign influence bill into law

Georgia’s parliament speaker signs a divisive foreign influence bill into law
  • The bill, which was approved by Parliament last month, requires media, nongovernmental organizations and other nonprofit groups to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power”
  • Veto of President Salome Zourabichvili was dismissed by lawmakers

TBILISI, Georgia: The speaker of Georgia’s parliament said he gave the final endorsement on Monday to a divisive “foreign agents” bill that has prompted weeks of protests by critics who say it will restrict media freedom and jeopardize Georgia’s chances of joining the European Union.
Shalva Papuashvili signed the bill into law after the legislature, controlled by the ruling Georgian Dream party, dismissed the veto of President Salome Zourabichvili.
The bill, which was approved by Parliament last month, requires media, nongovernmental organizations and other nonprofit groups to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad.
Zourabichvili, who is increasingly at odds with the governing party, vetoed it, accusing the governing party of jeopardizing the country’s future and “hindering the path toward becoming a full member of the free and democratic world.”
The government argues that the law is needed to stem what it deems to be harmful foreign actors trying to destabilize the South Caucasus nation of 3.7 million, but many Georgian journalists and activists say that the bill’s true goal is to stigmatize them and restrict debate ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for October.
Opponents have denounced the legislation as “the Russian law” because it resembles measures pushed through by the Kremlin to crack down on independent news media, nonprofits and activists. Critics say the measure may have been driven by Moscow to thwart Georgia’s chances of further integrating with the West.
Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze on Monday again dismissed the criticism as “unnecessary emotions that had only an artificial basis.”
“Now the law has already come into force and we all have to act pragmatically, with a cool mind and put aside unnecessary emotions,” he said.
The bill is nearly identical to one that the ruling party was pressured to withdraw last year after massive street protests. Renewed demonstrations again gripped Georgia as the bill made its way through parliament this time. Demonstrators scuffled with police, who used tear gas and water cannons to disperse them.
Papuashvili, the parliament speaker, reaffirmed after signing the bill that its main purpose is to “increase the resistance of the political, economic and social systems of Georgia to external interference.” “If non-governmental organizations and mass media want to participate in the decision-making process and influence the life of the Georgian people with funding from foreign governments, they must meet the minimum standard of transparency — the public must know who is behind each actor,” he said.
The European Union’s foreign policy arm has said that adoption of the law “negatively impacts Georgia’s progress on the EU path.”
The EU offered Georgia candidate status last December, while making it clear that Tbilisi needs to implement key policy recommendations for its membership bid to progress.
Following parliamentary approval of the bill last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that travel sanctions would be imposed on Georgian officials “who are responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia.” He voiced hope that the Georgian government will reverse course and “take steps to move forward with their nation’s democratic and Euro-Atlantic aspirations.”
The opposition United National Movement has described the bill as part of efforts by Georgian Dream to drag the country into Russia’s sphere of influence — claims the ruling party angrily rejects. Georgian Dream was founded by Bidzina Ivanishvili, a former prime minister and billionaire who made his fortune in Russia.
Russia-Georgia relations have often been rocky since Georgia became independent after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
In 2008, Russia fought a brief war with Georgia, which had made a botched attempt to regain control over the breakaway province of South Ossetia. Moscow then recognized South Ossetia and another separatist province, Abkhazia, as independent states and strengthened its military presence there. Most of the world considers both regions to be parts of Georgia.
Tbilisi cut diplomatic ties with Moscow, and the regions’ status remains a key irritant even as Russia-Georgia relations have improved in recent years.


Cyprus plans to build a major naval base to play a larger geopolitical role, says defense minister

An Open Arms ship and ship Jennifer, of the World Central Kitchen carrying food aid for the Gaza Strip, prepare to set sail.
An Open Arms ship and ship Jennifer, of the World Central Kitchen carrying food aid for the Gaza Strip, prepare to set sail.
Updated 17 July 2024
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Cyprus plans to build a major naval base to play a larger geopolitical role, says defense minister

An Open Arms ship and ship Jennifer, of the World Central Kitchen carrying food aid for the Gaza Strip, prepare to set sail.
  • Cyprus has in recent months been staging ground for collection and delivery of donated humanitarian aid to Gaza
  • Aid is being shipped from the Cypriot port of Larnaca to the Palestinian territory after being security screened

NICOSIA: Cyprus’ defense minister said Wednesday that plans are in motion to build a major naval base on the east Mediterranean island nation’s southern coast capable of hosting large ships from European Union countries and other nations to carry out a variety of missions including humanitarian aid deliveries to the tumultuous Middle East region.
Vasilis Palmas told reporters that Cyprus’ recently elevated geopolitical role as the European Union’s closest member to the Middle East warrants the building of infrastructure that can support policies geared toward the region.
Cyprus has in recent months been the staging ground for the collection and delivery of donated humanitarian aid to war-ravaged Gaza. The aid is being shipped from the Cypriot port of Larnaca to the Palestinian territory after being security screened. Last year, Cyprus served as a waystation for third-country nationals evacuated from Sudan.
Palmas said the construction of the base would “contribute decisively” to policy implementation in the region.
He said Greece is contributing technical know-how to the project, while actual construction will be guided by the findings of an expert study that will be completed in the next few days.
The naval base will be built on an existing naval installation some 25 kilometers (15 miles) east of the coastal town of Limassol, which in 2011 was the site of a huge explosion of 480 tons of seized Iranian gunpowder that killed 13 people, knocked out Cyprus’ main power station and stirred up a political crisis.


190 Russian, Ukrainian prisoners exchanged following UAE mediation efforts

190 Russian, Ukrainian prisoners exchanged following UAE mediation efforts
Updated 17 July 2024
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190 Russian, Ukrainian prisoners exchanged following UAE mediation efforts

190 Russian, Ukrainian prisoners exchanged following UAE mediation efforts

ABU DHABI: The UAE has succeeded in securing the exchange of 190 prisoners of war between Russian and Ukraine, state news agency WAM has reported.

The UAE now secured the release of 1,558 captives with its sixth successful mediation effort between the warring parties, less than one month after the previous exchange process, the report added.

“These efforts reflect the UAE’s commitment to being a reliable mediator supporting diplomacy to resolve the crisis between the two countries,” a statement for the UAE’s foreign ministry said.

The UAE was committed to ‘continuing all efforts and initiatives aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the conflict, stressing the importance of dialogue, and de-escalation, as the only ways to resolve the conflict, and for mitigating its humanitarian repercussions,’ it added.

The UAE also managed to negotiate the exchange of two prisoners between the United States and the Russian Federation in December 2022.


Pakistan summons Taliban envoy after attack on military base

Pakistan summons Taliban envoy after attack on military base
Updated 17 July 2024
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Pakistan summons Taliban envoy after attack on military base

Pakistan summons Taliban envoy after attack on military base

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's foreign ministry summoned the Taliban's deputy head of mission on Wednesday and urged their administration to take action against Afghanistan-based militant groups that Islamabad says attacked a military base this week.
Militants attacked the base in Bannu in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing eight Pakistani security force members.


Bangladesh shuts educational institutions after students killed in protests

Bangladesh shuts educational institutions after students killed in protests
Updated 17 July 2024
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Bangladesh shuts educational institutions after students killed in protests

Bangladesh shuts educational institutions after students killed in protests
  • Students say seven killed in overnight clashes with police, government supporters
  • They protest reservation of 30 percent of government jobs for families of 1971 war fighters

DHAKA: Bangladesh indefinitely closed all educational institutions on Wednesday following deadly clashes between students and police, as campus protests against job quotas spread across the country.

Students have been demonstrating at campuses since early July against the government’s quota system, in which 30 percent of public service jobs are reserved for the families of those who fought in Bangladesh’s 1971 liberation war.

The students demand the system’s reform and more just distribution of the well-paid public service jobs.

The protests turned violent on Sunday, after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina undermined the cause by suggesting that the demonstrators supported the “razakars,” or those who had collaborated with the Pakistani military — an enemy occupying force — during the 1971 war.

Students denounced the comparison and more of them joined the rallies, where they clashed with members of the youth wing of Hasina’s ruling Awami League party and security forces.

As violence escalated and turned deadly on Tuesday, the Ministry of Education and the University Grants Commission of Bangladesh announced in separate notifications that all secondary educational institutions, universities and medical colleges across the country would remain closed “until further notice” and “for the safety of the students.”

According to local media reports at least six people, including four students, were killed and 400 injured when the clashes broke out in Dhaka, Chottogram, Rajshahi and Rangpur.

Protesters estimate that the actual numbers are even higher.

“More than 1,000 of our protesters were injured during the clashes. Seven died, including one bystander. Just now, we held funeral prayers in absentia for our fellows who lost their lives,” said Mohammad Nahid Islam, coordinator of the Students Against Discrimination group, which is part of the protests in Dhaka.

“Today, police attacked protesting students at the Dhaka University campus with a stun grenade and tear gas shells. Many of our female students became sick and injured ... We are concerned about our security.”

Despite repeated attempts by Arab News, Bangladesh Police did not respond to requests for comment.


Women lawyers top Philippines’ Shariah Bar exams

Women lawyers top Philippines’ Shariah Bar exams
Updated 17 July 2024
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Women lawyers top Philippines’ Shariah Bar exams

Women lawyers top Philippines’ Shariah Bar exams

MANILA: Women have topped this year’s Shariah Bar examinations in the Philippines, with Supreme Court data showing that female examinees not only obtained the best score but also had the highest passing rate.

Shariah, or Islamic law, is partially implemented in the Philippines, applicable only to the Muslim community — about 10 percent of the 120 million of the country’s predominantly Catholic population.

A total of 853 candidates took part in the Shariah Bar exam in April and May, and 183 passed it. More than half of those who passed the exams were women, nine of whom were among the top 10 scorers.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Maria Filomena Singh announced the results on Tuesday, saying that “62.3 percent of the total passers are female. I’m very happy to announce that.”

This year’s exam also saw the “largest number of Shariah Bar examinees we have had in nearly 40 years,” Singh said.

“This is to strengthen and make the Shariah justice system more accessible by encouraging and giving more opportunities to aspiring Shariah councilors.”

Separate from the regular Bar tests for aspiring lawyers, the Shariah Bar exams are the professional licensure examination covering Islamic law for Shariah court councilor candidates.

Established under the 1977 Code of Muslim Personal Laws, the Islamic law courts are under the administrative supervision of the Supreme Court and have jurisdiction over the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region as well as other parts of the southern Mindanao island, which have significant Muslim populations.

The courts have application over personal status law, including marriage, as well as financial laws and halal certification.

The Supreme Court said last year that in its goal to “strengthen the Shariah justice system” under the Strategic Plan for Judicial Innovations 2022-2027, it was studying the possibility of expanding the mandate of Islamic courts to cover also criminal and commercial cases.