The French government has mobilized thousands of police officers, armored personnel carriers, and water cannon trucks in Paris to prevent convoys of motorists from converging on the capital to protest COVID-19 restrictions and mandates.
Entry checkpoints were set up at toll points on all major arteries into the city, while police set up riot-control barriers in the city centre ahead of planned rallies that protesters aim to converge upon over the weekend.
On Thursday, Paris police stated that protesters are banned from entering the city between Feb. 11–14, citing the risk of public disorder. The statement also included a possible fine of up to €4,500, the suspension of drivers licenses and up to two years in prison.
The “Freedom Convoy” in Paris is inspired by the demonstrations that first started in Canada almost two weeks ago, with drivers from numerous cities across the country converging outside Paris on Friday, where they reportedly seek to defy a police order not to enter the city.
"We've been going around in circles for three years," said pensioner Jean-Marie Azais, part of a "Convoie de Liberte" headed to the capital from the southwest, in reference to France's anti-COVID strategy.
"We saw the Canadians and said to ourselves, 'It's awesome, what they're doing.' In eight days, boom, something was sparked."
As the evening rush hour got under way, police began checking drivers' documents at various entry points into the city centre. More than 7,000 officers will be mobilised over the next 72 hours.
According to the publication, French protesters used social media platforms to organize the protest, providing suggestions on how to bypass the police, including using heavy-lifting vehicles to dismantle roadblocks into the city.
"We have always safeguarded the right to protest ... but we need harmony and we need a lot of collective goodwill," stated President Emmanuel Macron on Friday, urging calm among the protesters.
However, his subordinate and prime minister, Jean Castex denounced the protest, stating that they had no right to paralyze the capital city with their vehicles.
Reuters reports that Macron’s denouncement of vaccine refusers was supported by at least 80% of the population, but that “public irritation over COVID restrictions including a widely enforced vaccine pass has already triggered waves of demonstrations is growing”
The “Freedom Convoy” demonstration in France is reminiscent of the “Yellow Vest” protests, which took place for several months over diesel taxes, and “deep-seated anger outside big cities at the high cost of living and a disconnected urban elite,” Reuters reported, noting that spiraling energy costs and soaring inflation have once again provoked the French population into expressing their discontent with the French government.