French convoy against Covid restrictions heads to Brussels for another banned gathering
Hundreds of cars, motorhomes and trucks taking part in a Canadian-style protest convoy against Covid regulations were preparing to enter Brussels on Monday where Belgian authorities have already banned a protest following an attempt over the weekend in Paris.
Around 1,300 vehicles from across France had arrived near the French border town of Lille on Sunday evening, police said.
The protest is one of many worldwide protests inspired by truckers’ clash with authorities in Canada.
Camped in a parking lot near Lille, protesters waved French flags and chanted “We won’t give up” and “Freedom, freedom”.
“We are going to Brussels to try to block it, to fight against this policy of permanent control,” said Jean-Pierre Schmit, a 58-year-old unemployed man from Toulouse.
For Sandrine, 45, from Lyon, the government’s response to the Covid crisis had revealed that “we are losing our freedoms little by little, insidiously”.
The latest self-proclaimed “freedom convoy” comes after 97 people were arrested over the weekend in Paris, where thousands of protesters defied a ban in an attempt to blockade the French capital.
In France, protesters took aim at the “vaccine pass” required to enter restaurants, cafes and many other public places set up as part of President Emmanuel Macron’s vaccination campaign.
Belgian authorities have banned all demonstrations in the capital with “motorized vehicles” and said they have taken measures to prevent the blockade of the Brussels region.
Brussels police have posted a warning on social media that vehicular protests are banned and advise against traveling to the capital by car, directing convoys to a parking lot on the outskirts of the city as the only place where a static protest will be tolerated.
Some participants in a similar demonstration organized in The Hague also announced their intention to travel to Belgium.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo had, however, advised the demonstrators to abandon their plan to come to Brussels.
“I say to those who come from abroad: look at the rules in Belgium. We’ve never had rules that were too strict and we don’t have that many anymore. So complain at home,” he said on Friday.
Checks are planned at the border and vehicles arriving in the capital despite the ban will be diverted, Belgian authorities have warned.
Brussels airport also advised travelers to take precautions on Monday and come by train for fear of blocking access routes.
The self-proclaimed “freedom convoy” is one of many around the world inspired by a confrontation between truckers and Canadian authorities over vaccination mandates.
While French police counted 3,000 vehicles out of Paris on Friday evening, just around 100 drove to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in the heart of the capital on Saturday before being expelled after officers deployed tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.
In Canada, police on Sunday evacuated protesters who had occupied a key US border bridge for a week, but thousands of protesters remained in the capital Ottawa, where they paralyzed downtown.
The French protest movement brings together opponents of the compulsory Covid vaccination pass to access many public places but also dissatisfied with the rise in energy and food prices, issues that have triggered the demonstrations of ” yellow vests” which shook France at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019.
The French government has said it plans to relax face mask mandates by February 28 and hopes to end the vaccine pass requirement by the end of March or early April.