Thousands rallied Tuesday (6 July) in the Georgian capital Tbilisi to denounce attacks on the LGBTQ community that shocked the Caucasus nation and forced activists to cancel a planned Pride march.
Pride events are still controversial in the conservative country where the powerful Orthodox Church has previously clashed with Western-leaning governments over progressive social issues.
On Monday, LGBTQ activists called off a planned Pride march as protesters assaulted activists and journalists and skirmished with police hours after the prime minister denounced the event.
Hundreds of anti-LGBTQ protesters including activists from a small pro-Russian party removed a European Union flag outside parliament and attacked dozens of journalists covering events at several locations. Many were hospitalised with bruises and fractures.
On Tuesday evening, several thousand demonstrators gathered outside parliament to denounce the violence that shocked the pro-Western country and sparked condemnation from the United States and the EU.
Many at the silent demonstration waved EU and rainbow flags.
Police cordoned off the area to protect demonstrators from some 200 anti-LGBTQ activists who staged a counter-rally nearby and tried to break through police barriers.
“We can’t tolerate in this country any form of violence targeting minorities,” demonstrator 48-year-old art historian Lili Chumburidze told AFP.
“Homophobia doesn’t belong to the 21st century.”
Another demonstrator, 20-year-old student Lasha Bigvava, said: “We are here to tell the government that human rights must be ensured for everyone.”
Prime Minister Irakli Garabishvili has faced strong criticism from the opposition and rights activists after he spoke out against holding the Pride march, describing it as “unacceptable for a large segment of Georgian society”.
Pride organiser Giorgi Tabagari told AFP he suspected “the country’s secret service coordinated the attacks” on Monday.
Critics have accused the ruling Georgian Dream party government of tacitly supporting homophobic and nationalist groups.
These groups are seen as supporters of the ruling party and have staged protests against pro-Western opposition parties.
Georgia decriminalised homosexuality in 2000 and adopted anti-discrimination laws in 2006 and 2014.