Thousands of anti-Covid rules disembarked on the outskirts of Paris early Saturday after leading convoys from across France, intent on entering the city in defiance of a ban by authorities bent on preventing any siege of the capital.
The Paris police headquarters said that about 7,200 police and gendarmes “are deployed during the next three days to impose the ban on car convoys.”
Paris Police Governor Didier Lallmann said they had created a temporary pound car that would “put an end to any blockage with dozens of tow trucks”.
Police showcased their anti-blockage arsenal on Twitter, posting photos of loader tractors to remove bulkheads as well as trucks equipped with cranes or water cannons.
Armored vehicles for the gendarmerie were also deployed in the streets of the capital for the first time since the “yellow vest” protests at the end of 2018.
Prime Minister Jan Castilles vowed to stay steadfast.
“If they block traffic or try to block the capital, we have to be very firm about this,” he insisted on France 2 television on Friday.
Inspired by Canadian truck drivers paralyzing cross-border traffic with the United States, among the protesters have been COVID vaccination activists, but also people angry at the rapid rise in energy prices.
Hundreds of cars, mobile homes and vans from Lille, Strasbourg, Chateaubourg and elsewhere on Friday evening stopped at the gates of Paris, but a police source said no convoy entered the capital.
They are calling for a revocation of the government’s vaccination permit, which is required for access to many public places, and more help with their energy bills.
Lisa, a 62-year-old retired health worker who joined a convoy of more than 1,000 vehicles leaving Chateaubourg in the western Brittany region early Friday, said.
Like other protesters, Lisa was active in the “yellow vests” movement that was sparked by a fuel tax increase before becoming a platform for further complaints against President Emmanuel Macron.
Just two months before the presidential election and with the government desperate to avoid scenes of violence in the capital, Macron said on Friday that he understood the “exhaustion” associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This fatigue also leads to anger. I understand and respect it. But I demand the utmost calm,” he told West France newspaper.
Police estimated that 3,300 vehicles had taken part in the various convoys by Friday noon.
Paris police banned the gathering over fears of “public disorder” and said protesters who tried to block roads would face fines or arrest.
On Friday, the court upheld the order prohibiting convoys from gathering, and rejected two appeals.
“It is treason. The basis of the matter is that it does not respect the law and the freedom to demonstrate,” anti-vaccine and yellow jacket activist Sophie Tessier told AFP.
The Prime Minister said, “The right to demonstrate and express an opinion is a constitutionally guaranteed right in our republic and our democracy. The right to obstruct others or prevent people from coming and going is not.”
Refuting any desire to derail the capital, protesters had hoped to swell the ranks of regular Saturday protests against the government’s vaccination corridor.
“It is important that we do not interfere with other people on the roads,” said one of the activists, Robin, on his way from Illkirch-Gravenstaden in eastern Alsace. “This way we will keep the population on our side, as they did in Canada.”
After that, some want to travel to Brussels for a “European meeting” of protesters planned there on Monday.
Phil, 58, on his way by truck from Brittany, said his refusal to get the vaccine caused “disruption” in his family and work relationships.
“When you join a demonstration, you feel less alone,” he told AFP.
The government has expressed some sympathy with the protesters, with spokesman Gabriel Attal attributing their anger to “exhaustion and fatigue” after the prolonged Covid restrictions. On Friday, the government also announced a further relaxation of Covid rules.