Four held over attack on gay rights rally in Georgia

TBILISI AFP) - Georgian police have detained four men in connection with the violent disruption of a gay rights rally by thousands of ultra-conservative supporters of the Orthodox Church, the interior ministry said on Tuesday.

The men have been held on minor charges of "disobeying police and petty hooliganism" and face either a fine or up to 90 days in prison, the interior ministry said in a statement.

Several more serious criminal cases into the incident have been opened as investigations continue, the statement added.

Scores of gay rights activists were forced on Friday to flee a rally in the capital Tbilisi to mark International Day against Homophobia after thousands of Orthodox supporters headed by black-robed priests broke through police cordons.

Activists had to board buses provided by police to escape the mob, which charged after them across Tbilisi's main square hurling stones, breaking windows and threatening to kill them.

Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who had previously pledged that police would protect the rights rally, has said that the violence would not be tolerated and promised that "perpetrators of such acts will be dealt with according to the law".

Local gay rights group Identity said on Monday that harassment of people perceived as being homosexual has spiked in the days following the thwarted rally.

The United States, a strong ally of Tbilisi's, condemned the attack. "Such acts of intolerance have no place in democratic societies," a spokesman for the State Department said on Monday.

Homosexuality is still highly stigmatised in Georgia, a socially conservative country in the Caucasus where the immensely influential Orthodox Church has previously clashed with Western-leaning governments over social issues.

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