French COVID protest convoy defies order to stay away from Paris

PARIS, Feb 12 (Reuters) – A protest convoy broke through police defenses and drove into central Paris on Saturday, snarling traffic around the Arc de Triomphe and down the Champs-Élysées, as police fire tear gas at demonstrators protesting against COVID-19 restrictions.

On Friday evening, protesters in cars, motorhomes, tractors and other vehicles had converged on Paris from Lille, Perpignan, Nice and other cities, despite warnings from Paris authorities that they would not be allowed into the capital .

Inspired by the resounding demonstrations of the “Freedom Convoy” in Canada, dozens of vehicles slipped through the police cordon, obstructing traffic around the 19th century arch and the top of the Champs-Élysées lined with shops, a tourist magnet.

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Inside the city limits, motorists on the “Freedom Convoy” waved tricolors and honked their horns in defiance of the police ban.

On the Champs Elysées, clouds of tear gas swirled on the terraces of bars and restaurants.

Riot police also threw tear gas canisters to maintain order during an authorized street demonstration where demonstrators, including some “Yellow Vests”, protested against President Emmanuel’s coronavirus vaccine rules. Macron and the cost of living.

France requires people to show proof of vaccination to enter public places such as cafes, restaurants and museums, with a negative test no longer sufficient for unvaccinated people.

“We can no longer take the vaccine pass,” said Nathalie Galdeano, who came from the south-west of France by bus to take part in the demonstrations.

Police said they arrested 14 people, issued 337 fines by mid-afternoon and earlier stopped 500 vehicles trying to enter Paris in the morning.

With less than two months to go before a presidential election, Macron’s government is eager to prevent protests from turning into large-scale protests like the 2018 anti-government Yellow Vest revolt.

That movement started as a protest against fuel taxes and morphed into a broader revolt that saw some of the worst street violence in decades and tested Macron’s authority.

The grievances expressed by ‘Freedom Convoy’ protesters go beyond COVID restrictions, with anger simmering over a perceived drop in living standards amid runaway inflation.

Police had mobilized more than 7,000 officers, set up checkpoints and deployed armored personnel carriers and water cannon trucks in preparation for the protests.

Separately, police also said they arrested five protesters in southern Paris in possession of slingshots, hammers, knives and gas masks.

Canadian truckers protesting a vaccination mandate for cross-border traffic have paralyzed parts of the capital Ottawa since late January and blocked crossings between the United States and Canada. On Saturday, Canadian police began clearing protesters who were blocking a key bridge connecting Canada and the United States. Read more

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Reporting by Leigh Thomas and Antony Paone Additional reporting by Christian Lowe and Lucien Liberté Writing by Leigh Thomas and Richard Lough Editing by Kirsten Donovan, Angus MacSwan and Frances Kerry

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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