Thousands of anti-LGBTQ+ protesters forced a mass evacuation of a Pride festival in Tbilisi, Georgia.
Rainbow flags were destroyed and police struggled the hold back the wave of intruders.
The event was cancelled due to the unrest and a mass evacuation took place to allow attendees to reach safety.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community in Georgia have long battled for acceptance.
Co-director of Tbilisi Pride, Mariam Kvaratskhelia, confirmed all the event’s participants had been safely moved to a different area.
But she went on to criticise the authorities’ policing of the Pride event, which she said had been held in private for a second consecutive year to reduce the risk of such violent protests.
The Pride event had been held in private, but a large group was still able to disrupt celebrations (Picture: Reuters)
Police – some simply wearing a black top and a cap – scuffle with protesters (Picture: Reuters)
A European Union flag was thrown into a bonfire at one stage (Picture: Reuters)
The police response to the aggression has been criticised (Picture: Davit Kachkachishvili/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Ms Kvaratskhelia said far-right groups had publicly incited violence against LGBTQ+ activists in the days leading up to the Pride events.
She added: ‘I definitely think this (disruption) was a preplanned, coordinated action between the government and the radical groups… We think this operation was planned in order to sabotage the EU candidacy of Georgia.’
Protesters reportedly stayed and drank champagne following the evacuation, according to the Pride event organisers.
Earlier today, a government minister said it was a difficult event to police as it was held in an open area, near a lake.
Huge crowds of protesters had descended on the Pride event (Picture: Reuters)
Signs, flags and posters were destroyed in the chaos (Picture: Reuters)
LGBTQ+ groups have called out for further protection in future events (Picture: Reuters)
Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Darakhvelidze told reporters: ‘The protesters managed to find… ways to enter the area of the event, but we were able to evacuate the Pride participants and organisers,” Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Darakhvelidze told reporters.
‘Nobody was harmed during the incident and police are now taking measures to stabilise the situation.’
Georgia’s President Salome Zourabichvili, a frequent critic of the government, echoed the criticism of the police, saying officers had failed in their duty to uphold people’s right to assemble safely.
The country is in the midst of political discourse concerning its future and shifts in society.
Georgia aspires to join the European Union, but its ruling Georgian Dream Party has faced increased criticism from rights groups and the EU over its perceived drift towards authoritarianism.
After violent street protests in March, it withdrew a Russian-style bill that would have required non-government organisations receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as ‘agents of foreign influence’.
Georgia has passed laws against discrimination and hate crimes, but LGBT+ rights groups say there is a lack of adequate protection by law enforcement officials and homophobia remains widespread in the socially conservative South Caucasus nation.
Two years ago, several journalists were beaten during attacks on LGBT+ activists in Tbilisi.
One of the journalists, cameraman Alexander Lashkarava, was later found dead at his home, sparking angry protests in the Georgian capital.
Tamaz Sozashvili, a co-founder of Tbilisi Pride,previously told Metro.co.uk that the riots remain the ‘scariest day of my life’.
He said: ‘It took me a few months to recover from the stress. I didn’t want to go out and show up in public spaces to socialize because of disappointment, hopelessness, and anger.
‘A violent gang chased the organizers of Tbilisi Pride, including myself, to kill us and ransacked the offices of Tbilisi Pride and our partner Shame Movement, but the government failed either to prevent or to bring perpetrators to justice.’
Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more stories like this, check our news page.