Georgia gay rally blocked by church supporters

Thousands of Georgian ultra-conservative Orthodox supporters led by priests on Friday broke through heavy police cordons to prevent a gay rights rally from taking place in the deeply religious ex-Soviet state.

Scores of gay rights activists were evacuated by police on buses as crowds of chanting anti-gay protestors from Georgia's influential Orthodox church charged after them hurling stones at the vehicles and beating on the windows.

Organisers of the attempted gay rights rally -- which was supposed to mark International Day against Homophobia -- said that police had managed to escort them to safety and that no activists had been reported hurt.

"To the best of my knowledge everyone made it away safely," Irakli Vacharadze, director of gay rights organisation Identity, told AFP.

Several police officers and a journalist were injured in the scuffles, local media reported, although police could not immediately confirm this.

"The people do not want propaganda from minorities," said Orthodox priest Father Ioanne, standing among jubilant anti-gay demonstrators on Tbilisi's Freedom Square. "When these people want to demonstrate then it becomes a problem."

Homosexuality is still highly stigmatised in Georgia, a deeply socially conservative ex-Soviet state in the Caucasus where the Orthodox Church retains immense clout.

Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili pledged earlier this week to protect gay rights and said that police would defend the pro-gay rally.

Despite a very heavy police presence along Tbilisi's main thoroughfare, security personnel failed to prevent the angry Orthodox demonstrators from disrupting the planned event.

On Thursday Patriarch Ilia II, the head of Georgia's Orthodox Church, called on authorities to ban a gay rights rally, calling homosexuality an "anomaly and illness".