TBILISI, May 17 (RIA Novosti) - Some 30 people were injured when an angry mob led by clergymen broke through police cordons and clashed with gay rights activists in the Georgian capital Tbilisi on Friday, the country's health minister said.
Gay rights activists from the Identoba (Identity) group planned to hold a rally outside the former parliament building on the city’s central Rustaveli Avenue on Friday afternoon, to mark the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. Tbilisi authorities had authorized the event.
However, thousands of anti-gay protestors, mostly Christian activists, priests and members of conservative non-governmental organizations, gathered in the designated location before the rally began, forcing gay activists to change the venue. Several dozen gay rights activists who came to take part moved to a small area adjacent to Freedom Square, about two hundred meters away from the initial site.
According to Georgia’s Inter Press News service, the anti-gay protesters carried icons and posters proclaiming: “Homosexuals, away from Georgia.” They also brought eggs and stinging nettles to the protest, threatening to lash anyone who “deserved” such treatment.
Basili Mkalavishvili, an outspoken defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest who was sentenced to six years in 2005 for a series of attacks against minority religious edifices, pledged to “start a revolution of nettles to protect orthodox Christendom,” describing the plant as a symbol of Orthodox Christendom directed against homosexuals.
“There has been a rose and broom revolution; we are starting the revolution of nettles to protect orthodox Christians. We, as Orthodox Christians, won’t let them [homosexuals] walk down the holy streets,” Inter Press News quoted Mkalavishvili as saying.
After it became known that the venue of Identoba’s rally had been changed, participants of the anti-gay demonstration moved towards Freedom Square, breaking through police cordons on their way.
The country's health minister David Sergienko said 30 people were injured in violence that followed, 11 of them were admitted to hospital and one later discharged.
Rustavi 2 said five police, two journalists and one minor, were among those injured. In one incident, a group of conservatives stoned a minibus deployed by police to evacuate gay rights activists. Several people were injured, including a female reporter who was hit in the head by a stone. She is currently under medical supervision.
A doctor from the nearby hospital told News Georgia that ten people were admitted after the clashes.
“Ten people were admitted to our hospital, mostly with head and chest injuries, including five police,” doctor Konstantin Mumladze said, adding the five officers suffered moderate head injuries.
Giga Bokeria, Secretary of the National Security Council of Georgia, described the violence against sexual minorities as a “shameful” and “alarming” sign.
“These people [who attacked the gay rights activists] are enemies of the country’s statehood and freedom,” he said. “Some of those who took part, as well as their leaders, have previously been detained for violence and were released from prisons as political prisoners,” he said in a Rustavi 2 broadcast.
A lawmaker from the ruling Georgian Dream coalition, Zurab Abashidze, warned against abetting violence.
“I regret that such incidents take place, I regret that they lead to violence. Regardless of my faith, I’m convinced that we must not encourage violence and I call on law-enforcers to prevent it,” Abashidze said.
Despite calls to disband, thousands of Christian activists remained in the area later, even though the gay activists rally had been broken up.
Georgia’s ombudsman Ucha Nanuashvili called on the police to end the rally and restore public order in the capital.
“Under Georgian legislation, a rally which calls for violence and hatred should be stopped immediately. This rally has crossed the legal borders. The Georgian interior ministry must restore public order,” Nanuashvili said.
Updated with video