(Photo: REUTERS/Stephane Mahe)
Thousands of French took to the streets of Paris to protest the legalization of gay marriage on Sunday, and although the demonstration was mostly peaceful, some protesters lashed out with violence toward its end.
Approximately 200 young people threw rocks, bottles, fireworks and other objects at riot police at the end of the event, The Independent reports, and some attacked television crews and press photographers. Police responded to the attacks with baton charges and tear gas. Only a small fraction of the demonstrators at the event acted violently, but some others watching nearby cheered on the behavior. Others held hands, prayed and sang while police tried to restore order.
The number of demonstrators who participated in the march is unclear. Police claim approximately 150,000 participated in the event, while organizers say as many as 1 million were present and others say 400,000 is a more accurate number. Protesters marched from three parts of Paris and converged upon the esplanade in front of the Invalides to protest the recent passage of a law that allows gay couples to marry in town halls and adopt children.
Ninety-six people were arrested before the violence began, primarily for possession of weapons. Officials arrested 20 members of "Génération Identitaire" after they made their way to the top of the Socialist party headquarters and unfurled a banner calling for President François Hollande to resign.
Hollande's popularity hit a record low last month, Reuters reports, though a poll released Sunday shows his approval rating increased by 4 percentage points in May to 29 percent. In his first year in office, the Socialist president has been faced with the nation's economic woes and has upset many by supporting the same-sex marriage law.
La Manif Pour Tous, an organization that opposes the law and helped organize Sunday's demonstration, condemned the use of violence in the days leading up to the protest and asked demonstrators via an article on the group's website to "rally massively and peacefully." The plea to protesters came after the organization's spokespersons, in particular activist Frigide Barjot, were "being threatened more and more frequently."
"La Manif Pour Tous has firmly anchored its fight in determined pacifism," the article states. "Hence, it condemns all pressure, insults, threats against its spokesmen. In a democratic state, intimidation is intolerable."
Barjot was unable to attend the event after extremists accused her of being too moderate and threatened her life, The Independent reports.
"Frigide was wrong not to come," Alain, a lawyer demonstrating alongside his wife and two young sons, told The Independent. "The threat of violence is nothing in comparison to the threat we face from this law. This is just the beginning of a program of legislation to impose the socialist ideology of one gender and to destroy the foundations of the family."
The nation's first gay marriage is set to take place Wednesday in Montpellier.
Those who have protested the law include people who are against gay marriage for religious reasons and conservatives who believe gay couples should have equal rights but within an institution separate from marriage, according to The New York Times.
The Times also reports a group of conservative Christians held a separate but smaller march on Sunday.