PARIS — The police fired tear gas at demonstrators blocking traffic on the Champs-Élysées in central Paris on Saturday, after hundreds of vehicles emulating the “Freedom Convoy” protests in Canada evaded police checkpoints around the French capital.
Thousands of cars, camper vans and trucks had made their way to Paris from across France over the past few days to protest the government’s vaccine pass and other policies.
But the French authorities vowed a firm response to any blocked traffic. The Paris police force, which had banned the protests, deployed more than 7,000 officers, who pushed marchers off roadways and towed vehicles on the Champs-Élysées. The police said they had handed out more than 330 fines and arrested 44 people. By midday, there were no widespread blockages and traffic flowed normally through most of the city.
Officers had set up checkpoints at several of the main entrances to Paris on the road that surrounds the city, known as the Boulevard Périphérique. That prevented many demonstrators from entering.
But small clusters of protesters who managed to get past the checkpoints gathered at several places in the city, honking their cars and waving French flags. Some joined up with the anti-vaccine-pass marches that had been held on most weekends in Paris but had waned in recent months.
The different convoys, which had started out in cities like Nice, Brest, Lille and elsewhere, appear to be only loosely coordinated on social media and on instant messaging platforms.
In central Paris, thousands of peaceful demonstrators walked on the Pont du Carrousel on the Seine River, waving French and Canadian flags and chanting: “QR code, never again!” “Freedom!” “No to the vaccine pass!”
France’s vaccine pass bars most people who do not show proof of full vaccination or recent recovery from Covid from entering public establishments like bars, restaurants and museums.
But the protests have grown to encompass other sources of anger, like rising gas or energy prices, and the French government is watching the convoy protests closely. President Emmanuel Macron is keen to avoid a repeat of the Yellow Vest protests that roiled France in 2018 and 2019, sometimes violently.
That movement was sparked by an increase in gasoline taxes but was fueled by a much broader sense of alienation felt by those living outside Paris, echoing the motley mix of grievances expressed by the convoy protesters — some of whom wore yellow vests.