MOSCOW — Thousands of people led by priests in black robes surged through police cordons in downtown Tbilisi, Georgia, on Friday and attacked a group of about 50 gay-rights demonstrators.
Carrying banners reading “No to mental genocide” and “No to gays,” the masses of mostly young men began by hurling rocks and eggs at the gay-rights demonstrators.
The police pushed most of the demonstrators onto yellow minibuses to evacuate them from the scene, but the attackers swarmed the buses, trying to break the windows with metal gratings, trash cans, rocks and fists.
At least 12 people were reported hospitalized, including three police officers and eight or nine of the gay-rights marchers.
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“They wanted to kill all of us,” said Irakli Vacharadze, the head of Identoba, the Tbilisi-based gay-rights group that organized the rally.
Nino Bolkvadze, 35, a lawyer for the group who was among the marchers, said that if they had not been close to the buses when the violence began, “we would all have been corpses.”
Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili of Georgia condemned the violence in a news release late Friday as police urged the mobs to leave the city’s central avenue.
The attack comes amid an increase in anti-gay talk in Russia and Georgia, whose Orthodox churches are gaining political influence.
In a statement Wednesday, the leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, compared homosexuals to drug addicts and called the rally a “violation of the rights of the majority” of Georgians.
Conservative-minded Georgians traveled from other cities to condemn the gay-rights demonstrators.
“We are trying to protect our orthodoxy, not to let anyone … wipe their feet on our faith,” said Manana Okhanashvili. “We must not allow them to have a gay demonstration here.”
In a telephone interview, Vacharadze of Identoba said priests from the Georgian Orthodox Church led the charge that broke through the police cordons.
“The priests entered, the priests broke the fences and the police didn’t stop them, because the priests are above the law in Georgia,” he said.