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Protests as the French Assembly debates bill to penalize clients of prostitutes

  • People demonstrate against prostitution outside the parliament in Paris, Friday Nov. 29, 2013. France's government is pushing one of Europe's toughest laws against prostitution and sex trafficking, with other countries are watching closely. Advocates hope that a draft French law will help change long-held attitudes toward the world's oldest profession — by punishing the customer and protecting the prostitute. Debates start this Friday. Placard at center reads: Our body is not merchandise. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)The Associated Press

  • French sex workers demonstrate next to the French Assembly in Paris, Friday, Nov. 29, 2013. In 2015. They protested against a proposal to penalise clients caught in the act of soliciting a prostitute. The board reads : "Repression is not prevention". (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)The Associated Press

  • A French sex worker demonstrates outside the National Assembly in Paris, Friday, Nov. 29, 2013. Protestors gather against a government plan to penalize clients caught in the act of soliciting a prostitute. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)The Associated Press

Protesters both for and against an anti-prostitution bill that would decriminalize prostitutes but fine their customers have demonstrated outside France's National Assembly as lawmakers began debating.

Prostitutes in masks were among about 150 opponents protesting outside Parliament's lower house Friday, some hoisting white banners that read "Sexwork is work" in English.

They faced off with several dozen bill supporters — some with orange signs that said: "Our bodies are not merchandise."

The proposed law would introduce a 1,500-euro (about $2,000) fine for sex customers and decriminalize the estimated 40,000 prostitutes in France — in an attempt to fight human trafficking networks.

President Francois Hollande's Socialist government backs the bill. The Socialist-led Assembly is set to vote on it Dec. 4, and passage would send it to the Senate.