France massed thousands of police, armored personnel carriers and water cannon trucks in Paris on Friday to prevent convoys of motorists from gathering in the capital to protest COVID-19 restrictions.
Checkpoints have been set up at crossing points on the main entry routes while riot barriers have been set up across the city center ahead of the rallies that protesters aim to organize at the weekend.
Inspired by the raucous “Freedom Caravan” demonstrations in Canada, motorists – from many cities across France – were expected to gather outside Paris during Friday and seek to defy a police order not to enter the city.
“We’ve been going around in circles for three years,” said retired Jean-Marie Azé, part of the “Convoie de Liberte” heading to the capital from the southwest, referring to France’s strategy to combat COVID.
“We saw the Canadians and said to ourselves, ‘It’s great, what they’re doing.’ In eight days, bum, something broke out.”
As the evening rush hour began, police began checking drivers’ documents at various entry points into the city centre. Over 7,000 officers will be mobilized over the next 72 hours.
The convoy members exchanged information via social media about how best to sneak into the city, and avoided the police presence that included heavy equipment to dismantle any makeshift roadblocks.
>> Inspired by Ottawa protests, French motorists join ‘Freedom Caravan’ bound for Paris
“We have always preserved the right to protest … but we need harmony and we need a lot of collective goodwill,” President Emmanuel Macron told Quest France, while urging calm.
His prime minister, Jean Castix, was more outspoken. He said that citizens have the right to protest, but they do not have the right to obstruct the capital.
Canadian demonstrations, which paralyzed parts of the capital, Ottawa, and closed major transit points between the United States and Canada, have deterred angry truck drivers from delegating a vaccine to cross-border traffic.
But in France, it’s ordinary citizens outraged by COVID rules who are taking their cars. The protests are showing signs of uniting the disparate opponents of President Emmanuel Macron, two months before the elections he is expected to run again.
Yellow Vest Rise: Macron’s campaign against anti-vaccination has been widely supported, with 80% vaccinated in France, but public anger over COVID restrictions including a widely applied vaccine permit has already sparked waves of demonstrations.
In Toulouse, a woman chanting to motorists said protesters should defy police orders to stay outside the city limits of Paris.
“The authorities cannot stop everyone,” she said, withholding her name. “The caravans must force it, and they must still try to enter.”
Some far-right politicians and remnants of the anti-government “yellow vest” movement came out in support of the protesters.
Some among the crowds abandoning a convoy of pickup trucks, caravans and cars in Vimy, northern France, wore the clear jackets that characterized the popular protests that preceded the pandemic in 2018 and 2019.
The “yellow vest” revolution rocked Macron’s presidency for several months. What started as a protest against diesel taxes has morphed into a broader rebellion against Macron and exposed deep-rooted anger outside the big cities over the rising cost of living and a separate urban elite.
With soaring energy prices and a strong economic recovery driving up inflation, households are once again feeling pressure on budgets and public frustration is intensifying.
An investigative police source said, “The question everyone is asking is whether the Freedom Caravan will be a renaissance for the ‘yellow vests’.”