French police clash with anti-virus pass protesters in Paris

·3 min read

PARIS (AP) — Thousands in France protesting a special virus pass marched through Paris on Saturday, with French police in full riot gear using their fists to push some demonstrators back and firing tear gas against some crowds.

Some 3,000 security forces deployed around the French capital for a third weekend of protests against the pass that will be needed to enter restaurants and other places. Police took up posts along Paris’ Champs-Elysees to guard against an invasion of the famed avenue by violent demonstrators.

Anti-pass marches were being held in scattered cities across France, and four separate protests were held in Paris, the third weekend of anti-health pass protests.

With virus infections spiking and hospitalizations rising, French lawmakers have passed a bill requiring the pass in most places as of Aug. 9. Polls show a majority of French support the pass, but some French are adamantly opposed. The pass requires vaccinations or a quick negative test or proof of a recent recovery from COVID-19 and mandates vaccinations for all health care workers by mid-September.

For anti-pass demonstrators, “liberty” was the slogan of the day.

Hager Ameur, a 37-year-old nurse, said she resigned from her job, accusing the government of using a form of “blackmail."

“I think that we mustn’t be told what to do,” she told The Associated Press, adding that medical workers during the first wave of COVID-19 were quite mistreated. "And now, suddenly we are told that if we don’t get vaccinated it is our fault that people are contaminated. I think it is sickening.”

Tensions flared in front of the famed Moulin Rouge nightclub in northern Paris during what appeared to be the largest demonstration. Lines of police faced down protesters in up-close confrontations during the march. Police used their fists on several occasions.

As marchers headed eastward, police fired tear gas into the crowds, plumes of smoke filling the sky. A male protester was seen in the chaos with a bleeding head.

Another less tension-filled march was led by the former top lieutenant of far-right leader Marine Le Pen who left to form his own small anti-EU party. But Florian Philippot's new cause, against the virus pass, seems far more popular. His contingent of hundreds marched Saturday to the Health Ministry.

Among those not present this week was Francois Asselineau, leader of the tiny anti-EU Popular Republican Union party and an ardent campaigner against the health pass, who came down with COVID-19. In a video on his party’s website, Asselineau, who was not hospitalized, called on people to denounce the “absurd, unjust and totally liberty-killing” health pass.

French authorities are implementing the health pass because the highly contagious delta variant is making strong inroads. More than 24,000 new daily cases were confirmed Friday night — compared to just a few thousand cases a day at the start of the month.

The government announcement that the health pass would take effect on Aug. 9 after approval by the Constitutional Council has driven many unvaccinated French to sign up for inoculations so their social lives won’t get shut down during the summer holiday season. Vaccinations are now available at a wide variety of places, including some beaches. More than 52% of the French population has been vaccinated.

More than 111,800 people have died of the virus in France since the start of the pandemic.

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Patrick Hermansen and Michel Euler in Paris contributed.

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Follow all AP stories on the global pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.

Boubkar Benzabat And Elaine Ganley, The Associated Press

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