Up to 2,000 anti-LGBT protesters stormed a gay pride festival in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi on Saturday, forcing its cancellation.
The right-wing protesters, who included Orthodox Christian clergy, scuffled with police, rushed the stage and burned rainbow flags.
The organisers and Georgia’s president blamed anti-LGBT hate speech that preceded the event, and said the police had failed to protect festival-goers.
Homophobia remains rife in Georgia.
President Salome Zurabishvili said the ruling Georgian Dream party had failed to condemn its followers who had openly incited aggression towards LGBT activists.
Interior Minister Alexander Darakhvelidze, however, argued that the large area had been difficult to police.
“This was an open area, participants of the protest managed to bypass the security and find other ways to enter the event area,” he said.
“However we managed to evacuate the participants of the Pride festival and organisers from the area, no one was harmed,” he added.
The event’s participants were bussed to safety, Reuters news agency reported.
Far-right protesters also violently disrupted a Pride festival in Tbilisi in 2021, attacking journalists and LGBT activists.
The 2023 Pride organiser, Mariam Kvaratskhelia, said there had been a “mass mobilisation” of far-right groups ahead of this year’s event. The groups had been “openly inciting violence”, she said.
“We’ve been telling the ministry of interior and the police to start investigation immediately but they did not do it,” she told Reuters.
She also alleged the protest was a “co-ordinated action between the government and the radical groups… in order to sabotage the EU candidacy of Georgia” – although she did not provide any specific evidence for this claim.
Opponents accuse the Georgian Dream government of leaning towards Moscow, despite Georgia’s long-standing ambition to join the EU.
Mass protests in March turned violent over a draft version of a Russian-style law that would class non-government and media groups as “foreign agents” if they received more than 20% of their funds from abroad.
The clashes with police outside parliament led to the government dropping the bill.