PARIS (AFP) - Hundreds of thousands opposed to French legislation allowing gay marriage staged a massive protest march in Paris on Sunday, with police using force to evict hundreds from the Champs-Elysees.
Police used tear gas and batons to remove the protestors who had gathered late in the day on the city's famed avenue. Interior Minister Manuel Valls said there were "dozens of arrests", without giving further details.
Authorities had earlier banned the protestors from marching on the Champs-Elysees. They followed a nearby route and organisers claimed their numbers swelled to 1.4 million, while police gave an initial estimate of 300,000.
The hugely controversial bill to legalise same-sex marriage and adoption has been comfortably adopted by the lower chamber of parliament and will go to the Senate for examination and approval in April.
The upper house is unlikely to prevent the groundbreaking reform from becoming law by the summer. The protestors want the government to withdraw the project and put it to a referendum.
The opponents to gay marriage highlighted France's flagging economy, beset by mass layoffs and spiralling unemployment, and attacked Socialist President Francois Hollande's government for ignoring pressing issues while pushing ahead with his election pledge of "Marriage for All."
Banners held up along the march route read: "We want work not gay marriage," and "No to gayxtremism." The Paris police had turned down a request from the protest organisers to march on the Champs-Elysees on the grounds it would be a threat to public order, partly because it borders the French presidential palace.
The demonstrators lined a five-kilometre route from the Paris business district of La Defense to the roundabout where the Arc de Triomphe is located.
The movement against gay marriage has given France a new celebrity in the form of its public face, Virginie Tellenne, a Parisian socialite who goes by the name of Frigide Barjot.
Her assumed name - a play on the name of French film star Brigitte Bardot, a sex symbol in the 1960s - translates as Frigid Loony.
"We want the president to deal with the economy and leave the family alone," Tellenne said Sunday.
"We will not give up anything. We came to defend the fact that a father and a mother is better for children," said Marie, a 30-year-old protestor.
Somewhere between 340,000 and 800,000 demonstrators had flooded into the capital for an anti-gay marriage march in January.
A campaign orchestrated by the Catholic Church and belatedly backed by the mainstream centre-right opposition has steadily gathered momentum.
But Mr Hollande's support for the legislation has not wavered and his partner, Valerie Trierweiler, has revealed that the president will be attending the marriages of gay friends once the legislation is on the statute books.
Gay men and women can already adopt as individuals in France if approved by social services.
A separate law on providing medically assisted conception to gay couples, already extended to heterosexual couples unable to conceive, will be debated later in the year.