Up to 2,000 anti-LGBT protesters broke up a Gay Pride festival in the Georgian capital Tbilisi today, scuffling with police and destroying props including rainbow flags and placards, though there were no reports of injuries.

Organizers accused the authorities of actively colluding with the demonstrators to disrupt the festival, but a government minister said it was a difficult event to police as it was held in an open area, near a lake. “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 stabilize the situation.” The director of Tbilisi Pride confirmed to Reuters that all the event’s participants had been bussed to safety but criticized 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.

Mariam Kvaratskhelia said far-right groups had publicly incited violence against LGBT+ activists in the days leading up to the Pride events and that the police and interior ministry had declined to investigate. “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,” she said. The police and government could not immediately be reached to comment on her accusations.

However, Georgia’s President Salome Zourabichvili, a frequent critic of the government, said they had failed in their duty to uphold people’s right to assemble safely. 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 2019, which were sparked by a visit from a Russian lawmaker, the government agreed to electoral reforms that would make it easier for opposition parties to enter parliament.

But those reforms were reversed after Georgian Dream won a narrow majority in last year’s parliamentary elections, which were marred by allegations of fraud and intimidation. The opposition boycotted parliament and called for new elections, but their demands were ignored by the government. The EU has tried to mediate between the two sides, but so far without success. The Pride events were seen as a test of Georgia’s commitment to human rights and democracy, as well as its willingness to align itself with European values. But the violent disruption of the festival has cast doubt on Georgia’s EU aspirations and raised concerns about its stability and security.

Some analysts have suggested that Russia, which fought a brief war with Georgia in 2008 and still occupies two breakaway regions, may be behind some of the anti-LGBT protests as part of its efforts to undermine Georgia’s pro-Western orientation. Others have blamed Georgia’s own political elite for stoking social divisions and failing to address widespread poverty and corruption.

Whatever the causes, the outcome is clear: Georgia’s LGBT+ community remains vulnerable and marginalized, while its hopes for a more tolerant and democratic future are fading fast.

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