TBILISI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Organizers of Georgia’s first LGBT+ pride march called off the event at the eleventh hour on Friday after a wave of political unrest in Tbilisi that left hundreds of people injured.
LGBT+ Georgians had been planning to go ahead with a rally in the capital despite threats from extreme right-wing groups and fierce opposition from the influential Orthodox Church.
They postponed the march after police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets to stop crowds angered by the visit of a Russian lawmaker from storming the parliament building.
“There won’t be a march tomorrow,” Giorgi Tabagari, one of the event promoters, announced on Friday, with tensions still running high in the capital of the former Soviet republic.
Organizers said the rally would be held at a later date that was yet to be confirmed.
“It was a hard decision for us all to make because we put so much energy, resources and passion to it,” Tbilisi Pride member Tamaz Sozashvili told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“But on the other hand, we acknowledge the ongoing political situation in the country. We think this is not the right time to do it.”
More than 200 protesters and police were injured in Thursday’s clashes, some of them seriously, as demonstrators pushed against lines of riot police, threw bottles and stones and grabbed riot shields, drawing a tough response.
The Pride march was intended as the finale of a five-day program of events to raise awareness about LGBT+ issues, including a play and a conference - both of which went ahead without incident.
The Caucasian nation has witnessed a cultural clash between liberal forces and religious conservatives over the past decade as it has modernized and introduced radical reforms.
The influential Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate had urged the government to ban the rally, describing it as an unacceptable provocation aimed at promoting “the sin of Sodom”, while far-right groups threatened to form vigilante units to stop it.
The government had earlier warned against the march going ahead, saying participants’ safety could not be guaranteed.
Organizers said they received death threats and were forced to evacuate their office on Wednesday, after it was surrounded by protesters.
The controversy dominated local media coverage earlier in the week, but was overshadowed by political turmoil on Thursday, when the visit of a Russian delegation led by parliamentarian Sergei Gavrilov drew large protests.
Sozashvili said Pride organizers had feared the LGBT+ rally could be manipulated for political reasons as some of its main opponents were anti-Western and pro-Russia advocates, but hoped the preparations had put a public spotlight on LGBT+ issues.
“I hope that we changed the minds of quite a lot of people”, he said.
Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org