PARIS (AP) – More than 100,000 people demonstrated across France on Saturday against the government’s latest measures to push people to get vaccinated and to curb the rise in infections with the delta variant of the coronavirus.
In Paris, separate far-right and far-left protest marches crossed different parts of the city. Demonstrations also took place in Strasbourg to the east, Lille to the north, Montpellier to the south and elsewhere.
Thousands of people have responded to calls to take to the streets of Florian Philippot, a far-right politician and former right-hand man of Marine Le Pen who announced earlier this month he would run for president 2022. Gathered a stone’s throw from the Louvre, the demonstrators chanted “Macron, get out! “,” Freedom “and banged metal spoons on saucepans.
While Philippot staged small but regular protests against the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, Saturday’s protest drew a larger and more diverse crowd of people largely unhappy with politics: angry yellow vest activists against perceived economic injustice, far-right supporters, medical personnel and royalists.
They denounced on Monday the government’s decision to make vaccines compulsory for all health workers, and to require a “health pass” proving that people are fully vaccinated, have recently tested negative, or have recovered from the virus in order to access restaurants and other public places. The government of President Emmanuel Macron presents a bill on Monday to endorse the measures.
“I will never get vaccinated,” Bruno Auquier, a 53-year-old municipal councilor who lives on the outskirts of Paris. “People need to wake up,” he said, questioning the safety of the vaccine.
While France already requires several vaccinations to enter public school, Auquier has pledged to withdraw his two children from school if the coronavirus vaccine becomes compulsory. “These new measures are the last straw,” said Auquier.
The government has warned of the continued spread of the delta variant, which authorities say could again put pressure on hospitals if the number of people vaccinated against the virus is not sufficient. The pandemic has claimed the lives of France more than 111,000 and has deeply damaged the economy.
During a visit to a pop-up vaccination center in the southwest, Prime Minister Jean Castex urged the French to come together to overcome the crisis.
“There is only one solution: vaccination,” he said, stressing that it “protects us and will make us freer”.
During the Parisian demonstration, a worker in his sixties expressed his bitterness at the jobs in his sector that had been relocated. A 24-year-old royalist said he was there to demand “the return of God and the king”.
Lucien, a 28-year-old store manager, said he was not anti-vaccine, but believed that everyone should be able to do whatever they want with their own body. “The government is going too far,” he said. Her friend Elise, 26, said: “I have been vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and polio. But the COVID vaccine is just too experimental. “
While a majority of French health workers have received at least one dose of vaccine, some are resisting the government’s decision to make vaccination compulsory for all staff in medical establishments.
At Saturday’s Paris protest, a 39-year-old environmental activist and hospital lab worker said she could resort to buying a fake vaccination certificate to avoid losing her job. A health worker disguised as a Statue of Liberty called it an “act of violence” to force people to get vaccinated.
In Montpellier, more than 1,000 people marched to the station chanting “Freedom! and carrying signs saying “Our children are not guinea pigs”. Security guards closed the main entrance to travelers and a dozen police officers took up positions in front.
The Interior Ministry said 114,000 people participated in protests across the country.
On Friday night, vandals ransacked a vaccination center in the southeast. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin asked prefects and police chiefs to strengthen the security of elected officials, after several complained of having received threats in recent days about the latest anti-COVID measures.
Reluctance to vaccination is considered widespread in France, but appears to have subsided somewhat as 36 million French people have received doses of the coronavirus vaccine in recent months. Millions more have been injected or vaccinated since Monday’s announcement.
French health workers have until September 15 to get vaccinated. The COVID pass requirement for all restaurants, bars, hospitals, shopping malls, trains, planes and other places is being phased in from Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the French government announced tightened border controls from Sunday, but also said it would allow travelers from anywhere in the world who have been fully vaccinated.
This now includes people who received the vaccine made in India by AstraZeneca. The move came after a global outcry that the European Union’s COVID-19 certificate only recognizes AstraZeneca vaccines made in Europe.
Elaine Ganley in Montpellier and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.
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