Le Pays De France - Paris braces for Canada-style 'Freedom Convoys'

Paris -
Paris braces for Canada-style 'Freedom Convoys'
Paris braces for Canada-style 'Freedom Convoys'

Paris braces for Canada-style 'Freedom Convoys'

Thousands of protesters in "Freedom Convoys" were heading to Paris from across France on Friday, hoping to blockade the capital in opposition to Covid restrictions despite police warnings to back off.

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Inspired by Canadian truckers paralysing border traffic with the US, the French protesters have been setting off from Bayonne, Perpignan, Lyon, Lille, Strasbourg and elsewhere since Wednesday with the aim of converging on Paris by Friday evening.

They include many anti-Covid vaccination activists, but also people protesting against fast-rising energy prices that they say are making it impossible for low-income families to make ends meet.

"People need to see us, and to listen to the people who just want to live a normal and free life," said Lisa, a retired 62-year-old, as she joined a convoy of over 1,000 vehicles leaving Chateaubourg in the western Britanny region.

Like many protesters, Lisa has been an activist in the "yellow vest" movement which erupted in 2018 over fuel prices, but then became a platform for many other grievances linked to economic hardship.

The yellow vests have sometimes clashed with police, but Lisa said she hoped that the protests on Friday would go off peacefully. "It would really piss me off if things got out of hand," she told AFP.

After spending a cold night in a parking lot, the drivers in Chateaubourg set off around 9:00 am (0800 GMT) in a long single file of trucks, passenger cars and campers, as sympathetic passers-by waved from bridges and wished them luck.

Paris police have been instructed to deal "firmly" with any attempt to block the capital's roads.

"If people want to demonstrate normally, they can," Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said late Thursday. "If they want to block traffic, we will intervene."

The government has expressed some understanding for the protests, which its spokesman Gabriel Attal said were due to French people's "fatigue and weariness" after long-lasting Covid restrictions.

But, he said Friday, some politicians were trying to hijack the movement for their own aims.

"They are looking to gain political capital from this weariness and this fatigue in order to launch their own movements," Attal said, singling out Florian Philippot, a far-right candidate in April's presidential election.

Another hopeful for the presidential vote, left-wing firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon, said Thursday he could give the movement his blessing.

"Yes, of course I could support them," he told the France 2 broadcaster, adding he would first see "how all this takes shape".

Another candidate, the Green party's Yannick Jadot, said he was against the demonstration. "I perfectly understand the government not wanting Paris to be blockaded," he said.