French COVID protest convoy defies Paris restraining order By Reuters

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©Reuters. People gather as a convoy of vehicles carrying French and Canadian flags passes by, in Nantes, France, on February 11, 2022 in this still image obtained from a video posted on social media. Photos Souvenir/via REUTERS

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By Antony Paone and Leigh Thomas

PARIS (Reuters) – A convoy protesting against COVID-19 restrictions breached police defenses and entered central Paris on Saturday, hampering traffic around the Arc de Triomphe and on the Champs-Elysees as police fired gas. tear gas against protesters.

Protesters in cars, campers, tractors and other vehicles arrived in Paris from Lille, Perpignan, Nice and other cities on Friday night, despite warnings from Paris authorities that they would be barred from entering the capital.

Inspired by the blaring “Freedom Convoy” demonstrations in Canada, dozens of vehicles slid through the police cordon, impeding traffic around the 19th-century arch and the upper reaches of the boutique-lined Champs-Elysées, a magnet for tourists.

Within the city limits, motorists from the “Freedom Convoy” waved tricolor flags 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 fired tear gas grenades to maintain order at a sanctioned street protest where protesters, including some “yellow vests,” criticized President Emmanuel Macron’s coronavirus vaccine approval rules and the cost of living.

On the Champs-Élysées, police used tear gas overnight as sporadic fighting continued and one person who collapsed on the sidewalk was taken to hospital for check-ups, police said.

France requires people to show proof of vaccination to enter public places like cafes, restaurants and museums, and a negative test is no longer enough for unvaccinated people.

“We can no longer accept the vaccine pass,” said Nathalie Galdeano, who had come by bus from southwestern France to take part in the protests.

Police said they arrested 54 people, issued 337 fines and stopped 500 vehicles trying to enter Paris in the morning. The Interior Ministry said some 32,000 people took part in protests across the country, including 7,600 in Paris.

With presidential elections less than two months away, the Macron government is keen to prevent the protests from turning into large-scale demonstrations like the 2018 yellow vests anti-government revolt.

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

The grievances voiced by protesters in the “Freedom Convoy” extend beyond COVID restrictions, with simmering anger at a perceived drop in living standards amid rising inflation.

Police 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 had arrested five protesters in southern Paris in possession of slingshots, hammers, knives and gas masks.

Canadian truckers protesting the cross-border vaccine mandate have brought parts of the capital Ottawa to a standstill since late January and have blocked crossing points between the United States and Canada. Canadian police began clearing protesters blocking a key bridge linking Canada and the United States on Saturday.



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