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France

French MPs come to blows as gay marriage debate ends

media The confrontation in the French parliament Thursday night Screen capture/video BFM TV

Punches were reportedly thrown in the French parliament on Thursday night as MPs wrapped up the long debate on the government’s gay marriage bill. Three men were charged on Friday for an attack on a gay bar in Lille earlier in the week, amid accusations that protests have led to a rise in homophobic violence.

Enraged by what they believed was an insulting sneer by one of Justice Minister Christiane Taubira’s advisers while one of their number was speaking, about 20 right-wing MPs rushed onto the floor of parliament shouting “Out! Out!”.

“Punches were thrown,” according to Socialist MP Bernard Roman, while other sources said that one hit a parliamentary official called in to keep order.

The official video of proceedings was cut as the incident became heated.

Leading Socialist MP Thierry Mandon put the fisticuffs down to fatigue and said he was “not sure” disciplinary measures were necessary;

The incident was “a sign that it’s a good thing that we will take the final vote on this law on Tuesday”, he added, in a swipe at the right-wing UMP’s fury that the guillotine has been imposed.

The all-night debate, subjected to a guillotine of 25 hours by the government, had been acrimonious, echoing the massive campaign against the bill that has brought thousands onto the streets and seen clashes between police and protesters.

UMP member Philippe Cochet accused the bill’s supporters of “murdering children”, retracting the statement later, while Taubira declared that she felt as if she was taking part in a “bad spaghetti western”.

Earlier about a dozen opponents of the bill were arrested on a demonstration of several thousand outside parliament, one of the daily protests organised throughout the final debate this week.

In the northern city of Lille on Friday three men appeared before magistrates, charged with an attack on a gay bar in the old town on Wednesday.

The owner, known as Yohan J, and two of his staff were injured and furniture smashed by four men with shaved heads and tattoos, witnesses say.

The three, who are reported to be members of a far-right group, were already known to police for disrupting public meetings and homophobic acts.

A fourth man was freed without charge.

The debate has become increasingly bitter as the vote approaches:

  • French President François Hollande on Thursday condemned homophobic attacks and called on protest organisers to try and prevent violence, while criticising the parliamentary right for trying to blame the government for a “nauseating climate” and “justifying violence”;
  • UMP leader Jean-François Copé condemned homophobic attacks but rejected an “amalgam” with the protests, declaring that Hollande “bears his share of the responsibility for the tensions and deep divisions” that have appeared;
  • Socialist MP, Sylviane Bulteau claimed to have received a death threat, adding that her colleague, Hugues Fourage, had received a threat that his house would be smashed up;
  • The new leader of France’s Catholics, Archbishop Georges Pontier, declared he would continue the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, while his predecessor, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, called for non-violent protest;
  • Leading protest organiser Frigide Barjot called on the government to incapacitate troublemakers but repeated calls for demonstrations on 21 and 23 April.

The opposition UMP has called on its supporters to turn out on Sunday's demonstration against the bill and pledged to take the law to the Constitutional Council.

The left-wing mayor of the southern city of Montpellier, Hélène Mandroux, hopes to carry out France's first gay marriage at the end of June or beginning of July, government spokesperson Najat Vallaud-Belkacem announced on Friday.

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