Trucks block roads in France during a large protest inspired by the “Freedom Convoy” demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions in Canada. Photo courtesy Préfecture de Police/Twitter
Feb. 12 (UPI) — French police fired tear gas and arrested dozens of protesters in Paris opposing COVID-19 restrictions who were inspired by the “Freedom Convoy” trucker protest in Canada.
Protesters had managed to block the Place de l’Etoile around the Arc de Triomphe as riot police tried to clear them by repeatedly firing tear gas, France24 reported.
French police said in a statement that they made 44 arrests around 5:30 p.m. Saturday and fined hundreds of others during the protest.
Posts made to social media showed police impounding vehicles during the protests, and officials said in a statement that they had intercepted a convoy of 300 vehicles on the A4 highway, which leads into Paris.
Photos provided by police show that protesters had been equipped with slingshots, hammers, knives, gas cans and protective equipment in the anticipation of unrest.
French police banned the planned protest earlier this week and set up anti-riot barricades and deployed armored vehicles in a bid to discourage violence after banning the convoy from Paris on Thursday.
Police said that obscuring roads can lead to two years of imprisonment, a fine of about $5,100, the impoundment of the vehicle and a three-year driver’s license suspension. Organizers will face steeper fines.
French President Emmanuel Macron called for calm Friday while he acknowledged that French citizens are collectively experiencing “fatigue” after two years of coronavirus restrictions such as vaccination passes required to dine at bars and restaurants.
“This fatigue is expressed in several ways: by disarray in some, depression in others. We see a very strong mental suffering among our young and old. And sometimes, this fatigue also translates into anger. I hear it and respect it,” Macron said, adding that he calls for “the greatest calm.”
The movement has spurred planned protests in Paris and the Belgian capital of Brussels, which is also the headquarters for the European Union. An account on Twitter describing itself as the Europe Convoy shared a map noting that protesters intended to descend on national capitals across the continent.
Brussels Mayor Philippe Close said in a statement on Thursday that the capital city would also ban the “Freedom Convoy” because “no request has been sent” to allow for the protest.
“Means are put in place to prevent the blocking of the Brussels-Capital Region,” Close said. “The police zones, with the help of the federal police, will divert motorized vehicles coming towards the capital despite the ban.”
Police in Canada on Saturday began clearing protesters from the Ambassador Bridge, which has blocked trade at the U.S.-Canada border after a judge ordered protesters to leave the bridge.
The protests have taken place for since the end of January despite rebukes from Justin Trudeau and criticism that the prime minister has not done enough to stop them.