Final vote on French gay marriage bill set for next week

The final vote on France's landmark bill allowing gay marriage has been fast-tracked to next week, parliament sources said Monday, as opponents ramp up protests amid accusations the law is being rushed through.

The bill has proved hugely controversial in a country that is officially secular but predominantly Catholic, mobilising hundreds of thousands of people for months in pro- and anti-gay marriage protests nationwide, some violent.

It was approved by the lower house National Assembly in February, by the upper house Senate last week, and is now due to return to the assembly on Wednesday for a second reading.

On Monday, the executive branch of the National Assembly decided to implement a procedure that limits debate to a fixed period of time -- a measure that aims to avoid parliamentary obstruction.

It set the amount of time allowed for debate on the bill to just 25 hours and the date for the final vote to April 23.

Christian Jacob, head of the right-wing UMP party's faction in the assembly, denounced the move as a "total humiliation of parliament" and opponents of the bill called for fresh demonstrations next week.

"There will be a protest or a gathering on April 21, and there may also be something on April 23," said a source within the organisers of anti-gay marriage protests.

Opponents are also planning to gather near the National Assembly every evening from Tuesday, he added.

A mass protest in Paris is also planned for May 26 if the law is approved, to demand its withdrawal and a referendum on gay marriage.

Anti-gay marriage protesters have upped the ante in recent weeks as the bill nears the end of its legislative process, becoming increasingly vocal and forceful in their acts.

On Monday, 70 opponents to the bill were detained after trying to put up tents in front of the National Assembly in a bid to protest against the assault Saturday of a UMP activist known for his views against gay marriage.

On Sunday, 56 other opponents had also been detained near the Senate.

"I condemn all this violence, what is happening is very worrying," Jean-Francois Cope, head of the UMP, said Monday on BFMTV.

"The president is so closed to any discussion, any flexibility, that we're not getting anywhere."