Police Fire Tear Gas at ‘Freedom Convoy’ Protesters in Paris

Police Fire Tear Gas at ‘Freedom Convoy’ Protesters in Paris
A woman, walks past Champs Elysees Avenue near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, in France, on Jan. 25, 2021. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)
Naveen Athrappully

French police fired tear gas at the Canadian-inspired “Freedom Convoy” demonstrators protesting on Feb. 12 on the Champs-Élysées in Paris against COVID-19 restrictions imposed on the capital city.

Police had already stopped 500 vehicles at three checkpoints in Paris early on Feb. 12. By mid-morning, almost 300 tickets were handed out. The situation turned tense, with “scuffles” breaking out around lunchtime, according to local media outlets.

The Freedom Convoy vehicles had blocked the Place de l’Étoile around the Arc de Triomphe by 4 p.m., with large crowds gathered on the streets. Riot police were attempting to disperse the demonstrators with the “repeated firing of tear gas,” journalist Catherine Trent wrote in a Feb. 12 Twitter post.

Canada’s anti-mandate Freedom Convoy protests have paralyzed certain regions of Ottawa since late January, and they’ve also blocked crucial crossing points on the U.S.–Canada border. The protests currently happening in France are against rules that mandate vaccine passes to enter public places.

The vaccine pass, which replaced the health pass and took effect on Jan. 24, has been made a requirement to enter bars, restaurants, fairs, shopping centers, theme parks, and museums, as well as to access certain social and medical services.

“We’ve been going around in circles for three years. ... We saw the Canadians and said to ourselves, ‘It’s awesome, what they’re doing.’ In eight days, boom, something was sparked,” pensioner Jean-Marie Azais told Reuters, referring to France’s anti-COVID-19 strategy.

A woman who cheered for the motorists told the media outlet that protestors should defy the police order, which asked demonstrators to remain outside the Paris city limits.

The health pass of adults who haven’t taken a COVID-19-vaccine booster dose four months after the second dose will be deactivated, beginning on Feb. 15.

French police had sent more than 7,000 officers, as well as water cannon trucks and armored personnel carriers, to manage the protests. The police arrested five protestors from the southern Paris region for carrying hammers, gas masks, slingshots, and knives.

Police at the scene were tense, and they fired tear gas after multiple photographers took photos of officers subduing and kicking a protestor, according to an Associated Press report. One AP photographer was hit in the head with a canister of tear gas.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex issued a stern warning to protesters.

“If they block traffic or if they try to block the capital, we must be very firm about this. The right to demonstrate and to have an opinion are a constitutionally guaranteed right in our republic and in our democracy. The right to block others or to prevent coming and going is not,” Castex told France 2 TV.

French President Emmanuel Macron said citizens were feeling fatigued because of the pandemic dragging on for years. In an interview with a local newspaper, Macron said such fatigue “leads to anger.”

“I understand it, and I respect it,” he said. “But I call for the utmost calm.”

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