Thousands of people protested in Paris and other French cities against a mandatory coronavirus health pass for access to a wide range of public places, introduced by the government during the fourth wave of infections.
About 3,000 security forces were deployed in the French capital on Saturday for a third weekend of protests against the pass needed to enter restaurants and other places. Police took posts along the Champs Elysees in Paris to protect against an invasion of the famous avenue by violent protesters.
Most protests were peaceful, but some in Paris clashed with riot police who fired tear gas.
“We are creating a segregated society and I think it is unbelievable to do so in the land of human rights,” Anne, a teacher protesting in Paris, told Reuters. She did not want to give her name.
“So I took to the streets; I have never argued in my life. I think our freedom is in danger. ”
As viral infections increase and hospitalizations increase, on August 9, French lawmakers approved a bill requiring the pass in most places.
Opinion polls show that a majority of French people support the pass, but some French are stubbornly opposed to it.
The pass requires vaccinations or a rapid negative test or evidence of a recent recovery from COVID-19 and requires vaccinations by mid-September for all health care workers.
For anti-pass protesters, ‘freedom’ was the slogan of the day.
Hager Ameur, a 37-year-old nurse, said she was resigning from her job and accusing the government of using a form of ‘extortion’.
“I think we should not be told what to do,” she told The Associated Press, adding that medical workers were severely abused during the first wave of COVID-19. ‘And now we are suddenly told that if we are not vaccinated, it is our fault that people are infected. I think it’s sick. ”
Tensions erupted in front of the famous Moulin Rouge nightclub in the north of Paris during the biggest demonstration. Policellines came to protesters in close confrontations during the march. Police used their fists several times.
As marchers headed east, police fired tear gas into the crowd as plumes of smoke filled the air. A male protester was seen in the chaos with a bleeding head.
Ulrich Bruckner, professor of European studies at Stanford University in Berlin, said there were reasons to “worry [over COVID restrictions], but there are different ways to express it ”.
“On the one hand, it is extremely important that every citizen can exercise his and her freedom rights, which include the freedom of expression and the freedom of demonstration,” Bruckner told Al Jazeera.
“On the other hand, the state must protect itself and its system by restricting the freedoms when used against the system,” he said.
“And we see many orchestrated forms of trying to undermine the state or attract the police, which is why the protest in Berlin was canceled today because it was clear that it was not freedom of expression, but to provoke the police,” he said. he said. added.
As for the motives of the protests, Bruckner said the French read the implementation of new rules as a violation of equality.
“[In] Especially France, people read [these rules] as a violation of equality … and no one is a second-class citizen just because he or she decides against vaccination, ‘he added.
Paul Brennan of Al Jazeera said the people in the streets of France ‘are a small but fairly contingent of the population’.
‘Some are at risk of blood clots from the vaccines. “Others do not care about the vaccines, but do not like to be told what to do, do not like to be forced,” Brennan said.
“[But] President Macron seems to be winning this brawl with the French public over this. Three weeks ago, just over 40 percent of the public had both vaccines. The latest data I saw from yesterday is now up to 52 percent, such a big jump of 12 percent in the people, although it was reluctant to decide to go, ‘he added.
According to police, about 13,500 people argued in Paris’s streets, a police spokesman told Reuters news agency.
About 3,000 police officers were deployed in the capital, with rioting officers trying to keep protesters on authorized routes.
Authorities were trying to avoid the incidents that were repeated last week when clashes broke out between police and protesters on the Champs-Elysees.
Protesters also marched in other cities such as Marseille, Lyon, Montpelier, Nantes and Toulouse and shouted “Freedom!” and “No to the health pass!”
More than 111,800 people have died from the coronavirus in France since the start of the pandemic.