French police fire tear gas at demonstrators, as anti-restriction convoy enters Paris


A protest convoy breached police defences and drove into central Paris on Saturday, snarling traffic around the Arc de Triomphe and on the Champs-Élysées, as police fired tear gas at demonstrators protesting against COVID-19 restrictions.

Protesters in cars, camper vans, tractors and other vehicles had converged on Paris from Lille, Perpignan, Nice and other cities late on Friday, despite warnings from Paris authorities that they would be barred from entering the capital.

Inspired by horn-blaring demonstrations in Canada, dozens of vehicles slipped through the police cordon, impeding traffic around the 19th-century arch and the top of the boutique-lined Champs-Élysées, a magnet for tourists.

Inside the city’s limits, motorists in the so-called Freedom Convoy waved tri-colour flags and honked in defiance of the police ban.

Smoke is seen wafting after tear gas grenades were fired by police during a protest on the Champs-Élysées avenue in Paris on Saturday. (Adrienne Surprenant/The Associated Press)

On the Champs-Élysées, clouds of tear gas swirled through the terraces of bars and restaurants.

Riot police also threw tear gas grenades to keep order at an authorized street protest where demonstrators, including some “Yellow Vests,” railed against French President Emmanuel Macron’s coronavirus vaccine pass rules and the cost of living.

Protesters wave flags on the Champs-Élysées on Saturday. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

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

“We can’t take the vaccine pass anymore,” said Nathalie Galdeano, who came from southwest France by bus to participate in the protests.

Hundreds of tickets handed out

Police said that they had arrested 14 people, handed out 337 tickets by mid-afternoon and earlier had stopped 500 vehicles that were trying to get into Paris in the morning.

Less than two months from a presidential election, Macron’s government is eager to keep protests from spiralling into large-scale demonstrations like the anti-government “Yellow Vest” protests of 2018.

Paris police intercepted at least 500 vehicles attempting to enter the French capital, in defiance of a police order, to take part in protests against COVID-19 restrictions inspired by the truckers’ convoy in Ottawa. (Adrienne Surprenant/The Associated Press)

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

Grievances expressed by protesters in the vehicle convoy extend beyond COVID-19 restrictions, with anger simmering over a perceived fall in standards of living amid surging inflation.

A man holds his dogs as a police officer walks though tear gas during a protest on the Champs-Élysées avenue in Paris on Saturday. (Adrienne Surprenant/The Associated Press)

Police had mobilized more than 7,000 officers, set up checkpoints and deployed armoured 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 sling shots, hammers, knives and gas masks.

Canadian truckers protesting a vaccine mandate for cross-border traffic have paralyzed parts of Ottawa, the capital, since late January and blocked U.S.-Canada crossing points.

Police in Canada began clearing protesters blocking a key bridge linking Canada and the United States on Saturday.

People pose in front of a police armoured vehicle near at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Saturday. (Adrienne Surprenant/The Associated Press)

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