French gay marriage opponents stage big Paris march
By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor
PARIS (Reuters) - 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 polarization.
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 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 mobilization.
While the rally was peaceful throughout much of the day, police said they arrested 96 hardline opponents to the gay marriage law later on for refusing to disperse or occupying private property.
Once the bulk of protesters had gone home, clashes erupted between hardliners wielding sticks and riot police, filling the Invalides Esplanade with tear gas. The violence was less severe than at the end of previous demonstrations, however. Continued...