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Priests lead Orthodox anti-gays in violent Tbilisi clashes with rights activists, police (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Published time: May 17, 2013 14:05
Edited time: May 17, 2013 17:58

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Thousands Orthodox anti-gay activists broke through police cordon and pursued gay rights protesters in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, injuring at least 28 people in the process. The violent brawl marred the May 17 International Day Against Homophobia.

The first sanctioned anti-homophobic rally in Georgia organized by Identity NGO activists had to be moved to a public garden on Tbilisi’s Freedom Square after a 10,000-strong Orthodox crowd gathered at the initial rally spot on Friday.

Orthodox Christian activists march before clashes with gay rights activists at an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) rally in Tbilisi, May 17, 2013. (Reuters)

But heavy police cordons failed to contain furious anti-gay activists led by priests, who rushed to the new gay parade location. Upon breaking into the public garden, the agitated crowd engaged in a violent pursuit, beating and throwing stones at all the people who were thought to be representing and advocating for the minorities.

At least 28 people were injured in clashes, and 14 of them hospitalized, Georgian Minister of Health David Sergeenko said. A journalist suffering blunt force trauma to the head and a passer-by who had his leg broken were among the injured.

The police and special task forces managed to evacuate the rally participants using minibuses, but several vehicles were attacked in the process. Counter-demonstrators blocked the way and smashed the windows of a yellow van, in which minorities were thought to be carried.

Georgian ombudsman Uchya Nanusahvili was also compelled to leave the scene guarded by a dozen police after trying to persuade the Orthodox believers not to obstruct the gay rally, according to Interfax. The angry crowd responded to the rights commissioner plea by shouting insults.

Local media said that acting US Ambassador to Georgia Bridget Brink was caught in the turmoil too. Brink arrived at the scene before the clashes started and left without public comments, but her car was taken for a retreating vehicle of a gay rights defender and pursued, Georgia-Online reported.

Policemen try to stop an Orthodox Christian activist during clashes with gay rights activists at an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) rally in Tbilisi, May 17, 2013. (Reuters)

The thwarted parade had been allowed by the city authorities, despite the call by the head of Georgia’s Orthodox Church to ban the event. Georgian Patriarch Ilya II on Thursday said it would be “an insult” to Georgian tradition. He also called homosexuality an “anomaly and illness.”

“The people do not want propaganda from minorities,” Orthodox priest Father Ioanne told AFP, as he stood among the jubilant anti-gay crowd in the center of Tbilisi. “When these people want to demonstrate then it becomes a problem,” he said.

Other priests who led the rally told reporters they would not allow “rampant immorality in Georgia.

Orthodox Christian activists run during clashes with gay rights activists at an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) rally in Tbilisi, May 17, 2013. (Reuters)

Meanwhile, the Georgian parliament voiced its support for the minorities’ rights.

“The constitution assumes freedom of faith and views and no one has the right to go beyond the constitution and law,” Chairman of the Georgian Parliament David Usupashvili said at a Friday plenary session.

One of the parliamentary majority’s leaders, Georgy Gabashvili, has blamed the authorities, saying “the government has not taken sufficient measures to protect the rights of sexual minorities.” The parliamentary minority led by the Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili has also spoken in support of the gay parade, according to Interfax.

A policeman helps an injured man during clashes at an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) rally in Tbilisi, May 17, 2013. (Reuters)

Earlier on Thursday, Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili said in a statement that “LGBTI rights are human rights,” and the country’s government is “committed to upholding the rights of all of its citizens.”

“Georgia has a long history of tolerance towards minority groups, and my government implements the will of the people of Georgia in its unwavering commitment to European values of equality, democracy and rule of law,” the statement stressed.

Georgian Orthodox believers and anti-gay activists clash with police officers as they demonstrate in the capital Tbilisi, on May 17, 2013, to protest against gay rights activists' plans to stage a rally marking the International Day against Homophobia. (AFP Photo)

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