A rally in the Georgian city of Tbilisi to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), has been taken over by a violent mob of thousands who chased down demonstrators, forcing police to evacuate gay rights supporters.
The IDAHOT rally was attacked by thousands of, mainly young, male, Georgians. The group attacking the rally also included priests, and women in headscarves, who burst through a police cordon, and pursued the IDAHOT rallyers.
The mob reportedly shouted: “Where are they? Don’t let them leave alive!”, as they outnumbered, overpowered and took over the rally, and police who were trying to keep order.
Municipal busses were brought in to evacuate some of the LGBT activist, who barely made it into the vehicles before they were overridden by the angry anti-gay proteters who threw stones and smashed windows, as the busses narrowly escaped the square.
“Drag them out, stomp them to death,” shouted the pursuing demonstrators, following LGBT advocates into side streets, and attempting to storm a house in which some IDAHOT attendees had taken refuge.
Few spoke out against the violence, but one elderly woman shouted down from a balcony: “Look at yourselves! You call yourselves Christians?…Go ahead, kill everyone you are told to hate in the name of God and national values,” reports Eurasianet.
Police were seen gathering LGBT advocates into cars, and helping to hold off the mob from breaking into a shop in which some had taken shelter.
Government officials from both the Georgian Dream ruling party, and President Mikheil Saakashvili’s minority National Movement, condemned the violence, but blamed each other’s policies for the violent outbreak.
“Both groups have a full right to hold peaceful rallies. Violence is unacceptable,” said Justice Minister Tea Tsulukuani.
National Movement parliamentarian Gigi Tsereteli spoke on Rustavi2 television, calling the violance “anarchy”, and went on to say that “this is not the state we were building …”
Yesterday evening, the leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, called on the government to ban the IDAHOT rally.
Caught up in the violence were a US embassy official, and Georgia’s National Ombudsman Ucha Nanuascvili, who had turned up to support the rally, but were subject to verbal abuse.
Dozens were hospitalised, as brawls went on for hours following hte demonstration amidsts claims by gay rights activists that the church fomented the violence by continuing to speak out against the rally.
Leading up to the rally, Georgian Prime MInister Bidzina Ivanishvili said ”Society will get used to [homosexuality],” emphasising that LGBT people deserve equal rights to all other Georgians.
The patriarch also urged restrained conduct, but gay-rights activists claim that the church fomented the display of violence by speaking out against the rally.
In what some participants described as a voluntary initiative, gay-rights opponents, led by priests, gathered in the morning of May 17 and marched toward Freedom Square with posters like “Stop Promoting Homosexuality in Georgia” and “Homophobia is the Worst Sin.” Parish women held strands of nettle in their hands.