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France's opponents of gay marriage fight to the end

21 april 2013, 12:11
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France's bitter debate over gay marriage is set to reach a potentially explosive climax on Sunday, two days before a bill legalising same-sex unions is due to be finally approved, AFP reports.

Opponents of the reform have been urged to take to the streets of Paris in a last-ditch show of hostility after a week of regular and sometimes violent protests.

For a third night running Friday, demonstrators marched in central Paris to show their opposition to the measures, with a few hard core activists clashing with police later in the evening.

Tens of thousands are expected to turn out for Sunday's demonstrations, although organisers say they are unlikely to see a repeat of a huge demonstration in March that was attended by more than 300,000 people.

Supporters of the right of gays to marry and adopt children have also called a demonstration for Sunday.

With a final, decisive vote on the bill scheduled for Tuesday, the opponents of the reform have kept up the pressure with daily protests in Paris and other cities.

The tensions on the streets were mirrored in France's National Assembly, where the final debate on the bill was marred by unprecedented scuffles between deputies on opposite sides of the argument in the early hours of Friday.

Opponents have accused the government of rushing the bill through its final legislative stages by implementing a fast-track measure that has limited debate to 25 hours.

When the debate finally ended at around 7:00 am (0500 GMT) Friday, the Socialist speaker of the lower house National Assembly hailed it as a "historic moment". But the opposition UMP accused the government of making a mockery of the parliamentary process.

Friday's protests in the capital saw marchers gather near the National Assembly, blowing whistles and waving banners denouncing the government's reforms, with a small group of about 50 activists, some in masks, skirmishing with police.

Officers used tear gas against them and made at least one arrest, an AFP correspondent reported.

It followed protests in Paris and other cities on Thursday during which police detained 75 people, three of whom have been accused of violence against police and theft.

On Wednesday, demonstrations also turned violent. Two journalists were attacked and had their equipment destroyed, while cars along the route of the rally were vandalised.

News also emerged of another attack on a gay bar. The manager and a customer at an establishment in the southwestern city of Bordeaux were assaulted overnight on Wednesday by two people, who also smashed bottles and glasses.

On the same night in the northern city of Lille, three employees of a gay bar were injured in an attack by four men who smashed the building's windows.

President Francois Hollande has condemned the surge in "homophobic" violence, while Interior Minister Manuel Valls has warned that far-right organisations are infiltrating the opposition movement, triggering unrest.

New Zealand this week voted to legalise gay marriage, making it the 13th country in the world where same-sex unions are permitted.

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