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

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.