French convoys protesting virus rules head for Paris

PARIS (AP) — Protesters angry over pandemic restrictions headed for Paris in scattered convoys of motorhomes, cars and trucks on Friday in a bid to blockade the French capital, despite a police ban.

Protesters organized online, galvanized in part by truckers who blockaded Canada’s capital and blocked border crossings. But the French action has no clear leader or goal, and comes as months of protests against the French government’s vaccination and other anti-virus rules have waned.

Authorities in the Paris region have deployed more than 7,000 police at toll stations and other key sites to try to prevent a blockade. They threatened heavy fines and other penalties for those who defy the ban on protests, which authorities said was necessary to prevent “a risk to public order”.

Some of the French groups are threatening to continue their journey to Brussels, the capital of Belgium and the European Union, and to meet drivers from other countries there on Monday.

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Belgian authorities have also banned the threat of a blockade, and a similar “freedom convoy” scheduled for Friday in Vienna was canceled after authorities banned it.

French protesters have shared images of truckers in Canada who have blocked border crossings and crippled downtown Ottawa while demanding an end to their country’s COVID-19 restrictions, including a rule that all truckers entering in Canada must be fully vaccinated.

Some far-right and other figures in France appeared to be trying to revitalize their own protest movements, which represent a small minority of French citizens, by capitalizing on the global attention on Canadian truckers.

The people participating in the convoys represented a mixture of causes and vehicles, from trucks to motorcycles and motorhomes. Some sported yellow vests, a symbol of a French protest movement against perceived economic injustice that largely failed in 2019 after the government addressed some of participants’ concerns.

France has a very high vaccination rate and the government is gradually easing virus restrictions. However, after French hospitals and the elderly were hit hard by repeated outbreaks of infection, Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Thursday it was too early for people to let their guard down.

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