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France

France's gay marriage opponents fall out on eve of planned protest

media Frigide Barjot (C) on an anti-gay marriage protest last month AFP/Fred Dufour

France’s anti-gay marriage movement faced a damaging split on the eve of what may be its last massive demonstration against the law, passed last month. The protests’ best-known leader says she may not march on Sunday and Interior Minister Manuel Valls is thinking of banning a controversial faction.

“As things stand I don’t think I will demonstrate on Sunday,” high-profile “Demo for all” leader Frigide Barjot told journalists on Friday.

“I’d like to go but my presence crystallises hatred,” she added, claiming to have received death threats from activists who consider her too moderate.

Barjot, who rejects accusations that the movement is homophobic, has proposed that civil union should replace marriage for gays, thus making adoption impossible.

Text messages have told her not to raise the question on Sunday, she said on Friday, and other members of the organising committee have described the proposal as a “non-issue”.

Barjot has been granted police protection and the organising committee has engaged the services of four private security companies to supplement its own stewards and the 4,500 police mobilised to prevent violent incidents on Sunday.

Who is Frigide Barjot?

Born Virginie Merle in 1962, Frigide Barjot became the highest-profile spokesperson of the Manif pour tous (Demo for all) movement as opposition to the Socialist government’s gay marriage bill took to the streets.

Married to Bruno Tellenne, alias Basile de Koch, she worked with him in the communications department of the Gaullist RPR party, which was to become Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP.

In the 1980s and 90s she frequented Paris nightclubs, including gay ones, sometimes performing as a comedian or with her rock group the Dead Pompidou’s (sic).

In 2004 she rediscovered her Catholic faith during a pilgrimage to Lourdes, declaring herself “Jesus’s press attaché” and going on to defend Pope Benedict against criticism on issue such as Aids and the use of condoms.

She brought her talents at publicity to the anti-gay marriage movement but has been judged too soft by some of its supporters.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls on Friday told France Info radio that he was considering banning the Printemps français (French Spring) group, which had issued a statement threatening to "target" the government, political parties and "lobbies" that have backed the law and "organs that broadcast" its ideology.

“There is no place for groups that challenge the republic and democracy and who also attack individuals,” he said, adding that “radical, far-right groups” were planning to attend Sunday’s demonstration “to provoke confrontation and attack the symbols of he republic, a republic that far-right groups hate”.

“Several well-known figures have been receiving death threats for several weeks,” Valls said, pointing out that not only Barjot but also supporters of the law had been threatened.

What is Printemps français?

Printemps français is an alliance of groups and individuals, inspired by right-wing lawyer Jacques Tremolet de Villers’ call to broaden the anti-gay marriage movement into an anti-Socialist revolt.

Judging Frigide Barjot’s approach too cuddly, it has turned to more radical, sometimes illegal, action.

Barjot sacked her fellow Demo for all spokesperson, Béatrice Bourges, for associating with Printemps français.

Among its backers are far-right groups, including the student group Gud, known for its physical confrontations with left-wingers, anti-Islamic youth organisation Jeunesses identitaires and the Catholic traditionalists of Civitas and Icthus.

On Friday 150 Printemps français supporters demonstrated outside the headquarters of France's freemasons, claiming that they were behind the gay marriage law.

France’s mainstream right-wing party, the UMP, is also divided over Sunday’s demonstration.

Party leader Jean-François Copé has called on members to turn out as a show of opposition to President François Hollande.

He has the support of party heavyweights such as MPs Henri Guaino and Hervé Mariton, as well as the leader of the UMP’s parliamentary group, Christian Jacob.

But former prime minister Alain Juppé and former finance minister François Baroin on Friday advised supporters not to go, pointing out that the measure is now law and that there could be violence.

Former prime minister François Fillon agreed with their stance, as did Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the former ecology minister who hopes to stand for mayor of Paris.

Earlier this week UMP national secretary Guillaume Peltier publicly opposed her candidacy on the grounds that she had abstained in the vote on gay marriage.

The far-right Front National will have a delegation, which will include MP Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, on Sunday's march.

France’s first gay marriage is set to take place on Wednesday in Montpellier, when Socialist mayor Hélène Mandroux expects to preside over the wedding of Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau, with government spokesperson Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and junior minister for the family Dominique Bertinotti in attendance.

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