PARIS: French police fired tear gas at demonstrators on the Champs-Elysees avenue and other places in Paris on Saturday (Feb 12) after a "Freedom Convoy" protesting against COVID-19 restrictions made it into the capital.
Vehicles carrying protesters managed to get through police checkpoints in central Paris to snarl traffic around the Arc de Triomphe monument.
Inspired by horn-blaring "Freedom Convoy" demonstrations in Canada, motorists waved French flags and honked in defiance of a police order not to enter the city.
Police also threw tear gas grenades to disperse protestors, who are against a vaccine pass required to enter many public places, near the Arc de Triomphe and sprayed demonstrators in a separate march on the other side of the city.
"The vaccine pass is necessary to be able to work or play sports. We can't stand the vaccine pass any more," said Nathalie Galdeano who came from southwest France by bus to participate in the protests.
"We don't want this injection, we want to have the right to choose," she told Reuters.
Police said that they had arrested 14 people, handed out 337 tickets by mid-afternoon and earlier had stopped 500 vehicles in the morning that were trying to get into Paris.
Meanwhile, 2,000-3,000 people, including some "Yellow Vest" protesters, marched in a separate, authorised demonstration in Paris against COVID-19 restrictions as well as declining standards of living amid surging inflation.
Less than two months from a presidential election, President Emmanuel Macron's government is eager to keep protests from spiralling into large-scale demonstrations like the anti-government "Yellow Vest" protests of 2018.
Separately police also said they had arrested five protesters in southern Paris in possession of sling shots, hammers, knives and gas masks.
Police had mobilised more than 7,000 officers, set up checkpoints and deployed armoured personnel carriers and water cannon trucks in preparation for the protests.
Canadian truckers protesting a vaccine mandate for trans-border traffic have paralysed parts of the capital Ottawa since late January and blocked US-Canada crossing points.
The French protests are against rules requiring a vaccine pass to enter many public places and come after months of regular demonstrations against the pass in Paris and other cities.
The Yellow Vest movement which began as a protest against fuel taxes grew into a broader revolt that saw some of the worst street violence in decades and tested Macron's authority.