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French police fire tear gas as thousands protest against new coronavirus rules

A demonstrator kicks back a gas canister to police on the sidelines of a protest in central Paris on July 14, 2021 against a governmental decision to impose COVID-19 tests for unvaccinated people who want to eat in restaurants or take long-distance trips, as the country looks to avoid a surge in more contagious Delta cases. (Photo by AFP)

French police officers have fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators who took to the streets of the capital, Paris, to protest against the new coronavirus restrictions, as the country looks to avoid a surge in more cases with the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

More than 19,000 people, many of them skeptical of vaccines, staged nationwide rallies throughout France on Wednesday, after President Emmanuel Macron mandated a vaccine health pass for most public places.

In Paris, some 2,250 people marched through the streets, chanting “down with the dictatorship” and “down with the health pass.”

The protests were held as the annual military parade for the traditional Bastille Day parade, watched by Macron, was taking place along the famous Champs-Elysees avenue.

Police fired tear gas in an area of the French capital, saying that the declared protest route was not respected and the demonstrators threw projectiles and lit fires.

“Macron plays on fears, it’s revolting. I know people who will now get vaccinated just so that they can take their children to the movies, not to protect others from serious forms of COVID,” he said.

Other demonstrations were also held in Toulouse, Bordeaux, Montpelier, Nantes and elsewhere. The French Interior Ministry said that there were altogether 53 different protests throughout the country.

In a speech on Monday, Macron threatened citizens that they will face restrictions if not vaccinated against COVID-19.

He mandated special COVID-19 passes for anyone who wants to go to a restaurant, shopping mall or hospital or get on a train or plane. To get a pass, people must have proof they are fully vaccinated, have recently recovered from the virus or can provide a recent negative virus test result.

“The country is facing a strong resumption of the epidemic touching all our territory,” he said. “Get vaccinated!”

The French president further warned of a new wave of potential hospitalizations in August, saying, “The equation is simple. The more we vaccinate, the less space we leave this virus to circulate.”

He also declared that France will start charging money for some virus tests, which up to now have all been free for anyone on French territory.

Calls for protests against Macron had been circulating on social media since his speech. The demonstrators are unhappy at the decision and are calling for Macron to resign.

Since the announcement, a record number of French people booked appointments for COVID-19 jabs.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal defended the latest decision on Tuesday, saying, “There isn’t any vaccine obligation, this is maximum inducement.”

“I have a hard time understanding, in a country where 11 vaccines are already mandatory... that this could be seen as a dictatorship,” he said.

France’s virus infections started rising again two weeks ago. The number of people in French hospitals and intensive care units has been declining for weeks, but doctors predict it will rise when the increase in delta variant infections hits vulnerable populations, as it has in Britain and Spain.

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