Le Pays De France - Paris police clamp down on Canada-style 'freedom convoy'

Paris -
Paris police clamp down on Canada-style 'freedom convoy'
Paris police clamp down on Canada-style 'freedom convoy'

Paris police clamp down on Canada-style 'freedom convoy'

A French "freedom convoy" of cars and vans began arriving in Paris on Saturday for a protest over coronavirus restrictions, but the police moved quickly to prevent a Canadian-style blockade of the capital by issuing hundreds of fines.

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Inspired by the truckers that shut down the Canadian capital Ottawa, thousands of demonstrators from across France said they planned to form "a mass of vehicles that the security forces would find impossible to contain".

Several hundred vehicles, mostly vans, mobile-homes and cars, converged on the main ring road around the city after spending the night camped on the outskirts of the capital.

But the police acted quickly, issuing 283 fines for "participation in an unauthorised protest" by mid-morning.

The demonstrators include anti-Covid vaccination activists, but also people angry at fast-rising energy prices, some of whom took part in the "Yellow Vest" protest movement of 2018/2019.

Just two months ahead of presidential elections and with the government desperate to avoid a repeat of the "Yellow Vest" riots that shook the capital, Macron said Friday he understood the "fatigue" linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

- 'Fatigue leads to anger' -

"This fatigue also leads to anger. I understand it and I respect it. But I call for the utmost calm," he told the Ouest-France newspaper.

Nearly 7,200 officers have been deployed to prevent a blockade, with the Champs-Elysees avenue, which was the epicentre of the "Yellow Vest" protests, under particularly heavy guard.

Police showed off their anti-blockage arsenal on Twitter, publishing photographs of loader tractors for the removal of barricades as well as trucks equipped with cranes or water cannon.

Gendarmerie armoured vehicles have also been deployed in the streets of the capital for the first time since the "Yellow Vest" protests.

Prime Minister Jean Castex vowed to remain steadfast.

"If they block traffic or if they try to block the capital, we must be very firm about this," he told France 2 television.

The convoys set out from Nice in the south, Lille and Vimy in the north, Strasbourg in the east and Chateaubourg in the west.

- 'It's a betrayal' -

They are demanding the withdrawal of the government's vaccine pass, which is required for access to many public spaces, and more help with their energy bills.

"People need to see us, and to listen to the people who just want to live a normal and free life," said Lisa, a 62-year-old retired health worker travelling in the Chateaubourg convoy, who did not want to give her surname.

Paris police banned the gathering saying it posed a threat to public order and said protesters who tried to block roads would face fines or arrest.

The order prohibiting the assembly of convoys was upheld on Friday by the courts, which rejected two appeals.

"It's a betrayal. The basis of the order is not respectful of the law, of the freedom to demonstrate," anti-vaccine and "yellow vest" activist Sophie Tissier told AFP.

The prime minister defended the clampdown.

"The right to demonstrate and to have an opinion are a constitutionally guaranteed right in our republic and in our democracy. The right to block others or to prevent coming and going is not," he said.

From Paris, some of the protesters plan to travel on to Brussels for a "European convergence" of protesters planned there for Monday.

Phil, a 58-year-old on his way by truck from Brittany, said his refusal to get vaccinated had created "upheaval" in his family and work relations.

"When you join a demonstration you feel less alone," he told AFP.