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EU flag torn down from Georgian Parliament in second day of far-right street violence

A screenshot taken from Bloomberg Quick Take video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQ6zc9vWgQ0

This article was first published on OC Media. An edited version is republished here under a content partnership agreement.

Several thousand people including queer rights activists and supporters as well as opposition leaders gathered outside the parliament building in Tbilisi on Tuesday, July 7, to protest the violent suppression of a planned Pride march the previous day.

The Pride march planned for Monday, July 6, was called off after mobs of violent homophobic protesters took to the streets following calls by the Georgian Orthodox Church. At least 53 journalists were attacked during the conflict. Similar attacks reportedly took place on Tuesday.

During Tuesday’s protest, which was protected by police, members of the Georgian queer community and Tbilisi Pride unfurled rainbow flags next to a metal cross illegally erected outside parliament the previous day.

Police initially secured the space in front of Parliament building where activists gathered in silent protest, meanwhile, the homophobic counter-protesters gathered in front of the Kashveti church located across the parliament.

Soon after, the counter-protesters broke out and laid siege to the anti-violence demonstrators on three sides, repeatedly attempting to break through the police lines. Some threw eggs or plastic bottles filled with sand, resulting in arrests.

Police again refrained from deploying riot gear, including water cannons, which are frequently used against nonviolent or less violent anti-government demonstrations, including during the coronavirus pandemic and in cold weather.

After several hours, police cleared the area in front of parliament and escorted the crowds away, allowing the far-right mob to reclaim the space. The groups then tore down the EU flag that hangs outside parliament and set it alight. Protesters had also removed the flag the previous day.

The Interior Ministry said they detained 100 individuals throughout the evening, releasing 68 of them shortly after.

The anti-violence demonstration was joined by several opposition groups including the Libertarian party Girchi — More Freedom, European Georgia, and Lelo.

Security alarm outside TV company Pirveli

Hate groups, including Guram Palavandishvili, who leads the Society for the Protection of Children’s Rights, were aggressive towards journalists throughout the evening. Palavandishvili is an outspoken critic of LGBT groups and rallies. He was detained in 2019 during similar protest.

During the standoff, counter-protesters attacked a TV crew from Formula with one attempting to cut a cable to prevent the station from broadcasting.

Palavandishvili personally threatened OC Media’s director, Mariam Nikuradze, telling her that “there will be dead among you.”

Another unidentified man threatened to “smash” Nikuradze’s camera “on her head.”

Shortly before the rival demonstrations began, a group of men assaulted a camera operator working for Palitranews in front of Parliament, leading to the first detentions of the day.

Independent private TV company Pirveli, three of whose journalists were injured on Monday, reported mass police mobilization outside their offices in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Pirveli’s news program cited reports from the Georgian security services indicating that several groups planned to stage a protest outside the channel’s offices.

Pirveli, as well as TV companies Formula and Mtavari, have been supportive of Georgian queer rights and critical of the government over their response to recent hate crimes.

On Wednesday morning, the Interior Ministry reported four additional arrests for obstructing journalistic work and group violence against employees of TV channels Pirveli and Mtavari on Monday. The day was unprecedented in the scale of violence against media professionals as they tried to cover the anti-Pride demonstrations.

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