Inspired by the Freedom Convoy of Canadian truckers protesting Ottawa’s vaccine mandate, a group of about 200 protesters gathered in the southern French city of Nice Wednesday morning for a “Convoi de la Liberté” of their own. The protesters said they planned to converge on Paris before moving to Brussels, the headquarters of the European Union, to protest vaccine mandates.
A man puts a poster reads “Liberty Convoy” on a van before leaving for Paris , in Bayonne, southwestern France, Wednesday, Feb.9, 2022. (AP Photo/Bob Edme)
Departures were also reported or planned in about a dozen other cities, with groups calling for them to converge on Paris on Friday evening and to protest there on Saturday.
The Paris Police Prefecture, which serves Paris and the surrounding suburbs, said it was prohibiting demonstrations through Monday because of “risks of trouble to the public order.”
The department warned that any protesters blocking traffic would risk up to two years in prison, a 4,500-euro ($5,157) fine, and their driver’s license suspended for up to three years. Organizers of the event, they said, faced a 7,500-euro ($8,600) fine.
Protesters prepare to leave for Paris , in Bayonne, southwestern France, Wednesday, Feb.9, 2022. (AP Photo/Bob Edme)
A Facebook page associated with the group, “Le convoi de la liberté,” was created late last month and has since amassed more than 350,000 followers. Its creation came about a week-and-a-half after France passed a law banning the unvaccinated from all restaurants, sports arenas, and other venues as COVID cases – driven by the highly contagious omicron variant – surged across the country.
A truck convoy of anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate demonstrators continue to block the highway at the busy U.S. border crossing in Coutts, Alta., Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (Jeff McIntosh /The Canadian Press via AP)
Authorities in Belgium have also banned Monday’s threatened blockade, saying a wide perimeter around the city of 1.1 million would be set up to keep an excess of trucks out of the center of Brussels.
Brussels Mayor Philippe Close said in a Twitter message that officials decided to ban the “Freedom Convoy” protest because organizers failed to seek permission to hold the event.
The protests would mirror those of the Canadian truckers who have blockaded border crossings and paralyzed downtown Ottawa to protest the government’s COVID-19 restrictions, including a rule for all truckers entering the country to be fully vaccinated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.