Riot police have battled hundreds of protesters in Paris at the end of a largely peaceful march by tens of thousands of people opposed to France’s new gay marriage law.
Police arrested 96 people after scuffles at the protest in central Paris on Sunday once the bulk of protesters had gone home.
The clashes erupted after hardliners began to wield sticks and riot police filled the Invalides Esplanade with tear gas.
Youths shouted slogans against the left-wing government such as “Socialist dictatorship” and threw objects at journalists covering the event.
The law came into force more than a week ago, but organisers went ahead with the protest to show their continued opposition and voice their frustrations with President Francois Hollande, who had made legalising gay marriage one of his key pledges in last year’s election.
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 Hollande to quit.
The protests began as a grass roots campaign strongly backed by the Roman Catholic Church, but they have morphed into a wider movement with opposition politicians and far-right supporters airing their discontent at the socialist government.
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 had marched on Sunday, but protest organisers said a million people took part.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls mobilised 4,500 police to secure the event and urged protesters not to bring children along because of violence he feared after far-right militants clashed with police at recent rallies.
First gay wedding
However, many parents ignored his warnings and some picnicked with children on the lawn at the rally.
A survey published on Sunday showed 53 percent of those polled supported 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.
France’s first gay wedding is due to take place on Wednesday in Montpellier, France’s self-proclaimed capital of gay culture.
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said any disturbances at gay weddings taking place in the days ahead would be unacceptable.
“No disturbance of public order will be tolerated,” Valls said. “These ceremonies must be held in the best possible way. We will be vigilant.”