Pope protesters, supporters clash in France

PARIS Sun Mar 22, 2009 8:31pm IST

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PARIS (Reuters) - Far-right youths clashed with left-wing activists who had gathered outside Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on Sunday to protest against Pope Benedict's opposition to condoms, a police source said.

About 30 ecologists and Communists threw condoms on the ground outside the cathedral, where worshippers were leaving Sunday mass.

One person was injured and three were arrested after clashes between the protesters and about 20 youths who the police source said were associated with the far-right and who were carrying placards saying "Leave my Pope alone".

Benedict said in Africa on Tuesday that the use of condoms was complicating the fight against AIDS, reaffirming the Roman Catholic Church's opposition to condoms.

The comments were criticised by French politicians from all parties.

Two surveys at the weekend showed the German-born pontiff's popularity in France has fallen sharply.

A CSA poll for Le Parisien said 57 percent had a bad opinion of Benedict compared to only 32 percent in September 2008. A separate IFOP poll for the Journal du Dimanche newspaper found 43 percent of French Catholics want him to leave.

The pope's comments came ahead of an AIDS action weekend in France. AIDS-awareness activists Act Up-Paris also organised a "die-in" outside Notre-Dame on Sunday. They carried portraits of the pontiff accompanied by the slogan "Benoit XVI Assasin."

"By refusing to allow the promotion of condoms, the Catholic Church has millions of deaths on its conscience," Act Up-Paris said in a statement.

Human Rights Minister Rama Yade said she was "dumbfounded" by the pope's comments. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called them "the opposite of tolerance and understanding".

France is traditionally a Catholic country, although less than 10 percent of the population attend Sunday mass. But about 200,000 people turned out for an open-air service in Paris last year when the pope visited the country.

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