French scuffle over gay marriage bill

2013-04-19 14:46
A French pro gay marriage militant holds a placard which reads "stop homophobia" on the sidelines of a demonstration by supporters of the anti-gay marriage movement. (Jean-Sebastien Evrard, AFP)

A French pro gay marriage militant holds a placard which reads "stop homophobia" on the sidelines of a demonstration by supporters of the anti-gay marriage movement. (Jean-Sebastien Evrard, AFP)

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Paris - French parliamentarians almost came to blows on Friday as they finished debating a gay marriage bill, which has triggered violent protests and been linked to homophobic assaults.

A final, decisive vote on the bill - which would also legalise adoption by gay couples - is expected to take place on Tuesday, prompting opponents to up the ante, with protests taking place every day in Paris and other cities.

The tensions on the streets were mirrored in France's lower house - where the bill is being debated a second time after having already been approved by both the lower and upper houses - and politicians came close to blows.

In the early hours of Friday, as debate raged on, members of parliament belonging to the right-wing opposition UMP party rushed down to the government benches in response to what they said was provocation by aides of the justice minister.

Shouting "out", "out", the stand-off lasted several minutes, and punches were reportedly thrown in a scuffle that one minister said was unprecedented in his 30 years in the lower house.

The incident - blamed on fatigue and high emotions - was condemned by the ruling Socialist party.

Fast track

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.

And while the end of the debate at around 07:00 on Friday was hailed as a "historic moment" by the Socialist speaker of the lower house National Assembly, the UMP claimed the government had made a mockery of the parliamentary process.

Meanwhile, opponents continued to protest in Paris and other cities in France, with 75 people detained on Thursday - three of whom have been accused of violence against police and theft.

On Wednesday, demonstrations also turned violent, with two journalists attacked, their equipment destroyed, and cars vandalised.

Homophobic attacks

News of a fresh attack on a gay bar also emerged, with the manager and client of an establishment in the south-western city of Bordeaux assaulted overnight on Wednesday by two people, who also smashed bottles and glasses.

The attack happened on the same night as a similar incident in the northern city of Lille, where three employees of a gay bar were injured in an attack by four men who smashed the building's windows.

Yohan Jerczynski, the owner of the bar, denounced the current climate of "insecurity" on TV channel Canal Plus, saying he had never had any problems in his bar in 14 years. Three suspects were to face a fast-track trial on Friday.

President Francois Hollande has condemned the "homophobic" violence in France, and 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.

Read more on:    francois hollande  |  france  |  gay rights

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