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12 Feb, 2022 12:28

Police intercept ‘Freedom Convoy’ headed for Paris

The authorities have stopped 500 vehicles outside the French capital ahead of an anti-mandate protest

French police say they intercepted around 500 vehicles trying to enter Paris as part of an anti-mandate ‘Freedom Convoy’ protest on Saturday.

Several groups of protesters who took their cue from the Canadian truckers were stopped at three checkpoints outside the French capital. The authorities issued almost 300 tickets to the participants.

Ahead of the planned protest, police deployed thousands of officers, water cannons, and, for the first time since the Yellow Vest protests in late 2018, armored personnel carriers. An order was issued prohibiting the protests in Paris over fears that the demonstration could result in “public order disturbances.” Courts sided with the authorities, rejecting two appeals against the ban.

Paris Police Chief Didier Lallement said the authorities had dozens of tow trucks at their disposal that would help “put an end to any blockage.” Speaking to France 2 TV on Friday, Prime Minister Jean Castex warned that the French government would be “very firm” should the protesters “block traffic or if they try to block the capital.” Castex added that while the “right to demonstrate and to have an opinion are a constitutionally guaranteed right in our republic and in our democracy,” that right does not apply to blocking traffic.

The protesters insist they did not intend to obstruct the roads, and were merely planning to join Saturday’s anti-mandate protest. One activist told France 24 that the order infringes on their right to demonstrate.

Modeling their movement after the Canadian truckers who have been protesting against vaccine mandates in downtown Ottawa for nearly two weeks, hundreds of people from Lille, Strasbourg, Chateaubourg, and other cities set off for Paris, with hundreds of cars, motorhomes, and vans joining the convoy. A total of 3,300 vehicles are believed to be taking part.

The protesters are calling on the French government to ditch the vaccine passes, which people are required to present if they want to access public spaces. Rising energy prices are another hot topic with the demonstrators.

Speaking to Ouest-France newspaper on Friday, President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged there was “fatigue” over the Covid restrictions. Macron said he “understood and respected” the anger felt by some sections of society, but called on his fellow countrymen and women to exercise the “utmost calm.