Police in Georgia said on Saturday they had arrested more than 25 people after ultra-nationalist protesters clashed with security forces as they attempted to derail the premiere of an award-winning movie about gay love.
A few hundred demonstrators blocked the road outside a cinema in the city centre of the country's capital, Tbilisi, on Friday ahead of the first screening of "And Then We Danced". The film tells the story of two young male Georgian ballet dancers falling in love.
The protesters chanted slogans such as "Long live Georgia" and "Shame" and tried to force their way inside the cinema but where held back by riot police. Some were holding crosses and religious icons.
"This is not just a movie. This is an insult to our faith, our traditions and all that is holy for us," Guram Damenia, who came dressed in a traditional Georgian costume, told Reuters.
Two police officers and a young woman, who was trying to go watch the film, were injured, police said.
The movie premiered at the Cannes film festival in May and has won awards at festivals around the world.
But reception has been mixed in the conservative Caucasian nation. Same-sex relationships remain largely taboo in Georgia, where dance is revered as part of the nation's heritage.
Tickets for the scheduled three days of screenings at a handful of cinemas in Tbilisi and the port city of Batumi sold out quickly, but the country's influential Orthodox Church denounced the film as an attempt to undermine Christian values and legalise "sin".
Demonstrators set fire to a rainbow flag and threw firecrackers and smoke bombs at the entrance of Tbilisi's Amirani cinema, as moviegoers, many young, tried to get inside.
"I don't think it is normal to have so many policemen here to save me and my friends from people who think that I should not watch a movie," said 22-year-old Tina Iukhutashvili. "I should not be scared to go to see a movie".
Police said they detained 25 people, one for attacking the woman and 24 for hooliganism and disobeying police orders.
Three more were arrested over similar incidents in Batumi and investigations were continuing, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
The Ministry also said that it had launched investigations into 4 cases related to the incidents.
"Photo and video materials on the incidents are being processed to identify wrongdoers and provide appropriate legal response," the ministry said.
A Georgian citizen, Ana Subeliani, was injured on the scene, the Ministry said. LGBT+ groups said on social media that she had received several stitches. A vehicle belonging to the Ministry of Internal affairs was also damaged, the statement added.
Subeliani posted a photo of her injuries on Facebook, saying: "My friends and I were severely beaten and threatened."
In another Facebook post about the time she spent in hospital for her injuries, Subeliani wrote: "It is tiring to live in this country, painful and difficult. But no one can stir me yet and I am going to fight for freedom and justice!".
About a dozen anti-LGBT+ demonstrators and several priests held prayers outside another Tbilisi cinema.
Over the past decade, as it has modernised and introduced radical reforms, Georgia has witnessed a cultural clash between liberal forces and religious conservatives.
The country has passed anti-discrimination laws in an effort to move closer to the European Union but homophobia remains widespread, LGBT+ rights groups have said.
Director Levan Akin, who has described the movie as a "love letter" to Georgia and its traditions, said he felt "so much pride" that no cinema had cancelled the screenings.
"I am so inspired and moved by all the brave moviegoers who stood their ground and would not be intimidated," the 39-year-old, who was born in Sweden to parents of Georgian descent, posted on social media.