Thousands join Paris rally against gay marriage law
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A protest against France’s new gay marriage law drew thousands of demonstrators to central Paris on Sunday. Activists hope their protests will make it harder for the unpopular government to push ahead with other socially-liberal reforms.
Several hundred thousand opponents of same-sex marriage marched in central Paris on Sunday against a reform the unpopular French government passed last month at the price of deepening political polarisation.
Violence intensfied as night fell on Sunday following major protest against gay marriage in France as a group of about 200 youths fought running battles with police, who made repeated baton charges.
A wall of dissipating teargas drifted in front of the historic Invalides building where Napoleon is buried as in the foreground demonstrators played cat-and-mouse with the police. Police say that
150,000 people took part in the main protest on Sunday afternoon, organisers estimated several hundred thousand more.
The images were likely to be a deep embarrassment to the government, which had pledged there would be no fighting at the end of the demonstration and had drafted in more than 4,000 officers to maintain order.
Sunday's was the final demonstration against the controversial law that allows same sex-unions, which was voted onto the statute books late last month.
Large park grounds around Les Invalides monument were full of protesters waving pink and blue flags, while far-right activists hung a banner on the ruling Socialist Party headquarters urging President Francois Hollande to quit.
The protests, which began as a grass roots campaign strongly backed by the Roman Catholic Church, have morphed into a wider movement with opposition politicians and far-right militants airing their discontent with the unpopular Hollande.
Although they have failed to block gay marriage, the protesters hope their renewed show of force will help stop or slow down further laws some Socialists want allowing assisted procreation and surrogate motherhood for gay couples.
Jean-Francois Cope, leader of the opposition UMP party, marched in the demonstration and urged young protesters to join his party to keep up pressure on the left-wing government.
"The next rendez-vous should be at the ballot boxes for the municipal elections," he said, referring to local polls due next year where conservatives hope to profit from the protest movement’s unexpectedly strong mobilisation.
Police said 150,000 marched on Sunday while protest organisers said a million people took part.
Warnings of violence ignored
Interior Minister Manuel Valls warned protesters on Saturday not to bring children along because of violence he feared after far-right militants clashed with police at recent rallies. He mobilised 4,500 police to secure the event.
Many parents ignored his warnings and some picnicked with children on the lawn at the rally. "Look, it’s perfectly safe here," said Elisabeth Huet from Orleans, who marched along with her adult daughter and three small grandchildren.
A survey published on Sunday showed 53 percent of those polled support gay marriage and adoption, indicating a slide of about 10 points since the protests began last November. It said 72 percent thought the protests should stop now.
Plagued by economic recession, unemployment at more than 10 percent and pressure to reduce the public deficit, Hollande got some respite on Sunday from another poll showing his record low popularity had inched up four points to 29 percent this month.
While leaders of Hollande’s Socialist Party denounced the protest against a law already passed in parliament and validated by the Constitutional Council, the conservative UMP party was split over whether to continue the rallies.
Several UMP leaders, including former conservative prime ministers Francois Fillon and Alain Juppe, disagreed with Cope and did not join the march, saying lawmakers should exercise their influence in parliament rather than in street protests.
There were also fewer Catholic priests than at earlier rallies. Several bishops joined previous marches, but distanced themselves as the protests became more openly political.
France’s first gay wedding is due to take place on Wednesday in Montpellier, France’s self-proclaimed capital of gay culture.
France, a traditionally Catholic country, followed 13 others including Canada, Denmark, Sweden and most recently Uruguay and New Zealand in allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed.
In the United States, Washington D.C. and 12 states have legalised same-sex marriage.