Law enforcement officers in the French capital used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowds as the situation on the streets spiraled out of control during the massive demonstrations provoked by the government’s plans to extend health passes for public places and enforce mandatory vaccination for certain jobs, including health workers.
Videos published on social media showed a crowd of angry young people forcing police officers to retreat from the Champs-Elysees by blocking the road, pelting officers with various objects and even attacking police vans. Law enforcement responded by deploying water cannon to disperse the crowd.
Elsewhere in Paris, a tense standoff between officers in riot gear and demonstrators ended up in a brief but fierce scuffle that prompted the police to use tear gas. In another incident, a crowd attacked a police motorbike by pelting it with bottles, forcing law enforcement officers to intervene.
Thousands of people took to the streets of the French capital to join at least three major rallies. One of them, attended by people wearing yellow vests – a sign of another major anti-government movement – was organized near the Place de la Bastille.
Another one – organized by the Eurosceptic ‘Patriots’ party – was organized at Trocadero, just across the river from the Eiffel Tower. Another group of protesters planned their march through central Paris.
The strike against “forced vaccination” was announced on Thursday by the CGT-GHPP trade union, and affects some 200 doctors and 1,500 nurses in the southeastern French city.
Hundreds of them gathered outside the hospital on Friday, denouncing lockdowns and vaccine mandates and chanting “liberté!” (freedom).
The French legislature is finalizing the proposal that would require all medical professionals in contact with the vulnerable to be fully vaccinated by September 15, or else lose their salaries and even their jobs.
“We are against mandatory vaccination and vaccine coercion,” Elsa Ruillere, local union representative, told Sputnik France. “There is no choice between tests or vaccination: vaccination is compulsory. No, we don't agree. We want to have the choice like the rest of the world and we do not want compulsory vaccination.”
Ruillere says her union supports “free and informed consent” and is not against vaccination on principle but is against coercion. Some of the medical workers said they are waiting for the French-made Sanofi-GSK vaccine, promised for December.
“We are well aware of the evolution of the virus. We do not take it lightly,” Ruillere said. However, she and her striking colleagues point out that even with the rise in positive tests for the Delta variant of the coronavirus, there is no commensurate rise in hospitalizations.
“Yes, we turned ‘red’ but that's in fact due to the positive tests. In terms of hospitalizations, we are fine at the moment, we did not need to reopen beds, we have far fewer hospitalized people than before and fewer people in intensive care,” she added.
Another union gripe is the lack of public debate, since France’s National Assembly seems to have simply proceeded on the advice of the High Health Authority (HAS), which called the vaccination mandate “justified.”
Thousands of people have gathered at the Trafalgar square in London on Saturday for the so-called ‘Freedom Rally’ to protest the restrictive measures introduced amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The demonstrators flooded almost the entire square, holding placards and banners that read: “No to forced testing” and “No to forced vaccination.”
Even though minor scuffles erupted on the sidelines of the event, resulting in several arrests, the rally was otherwise peaceful. The gathering was attended by the controversial media personality, Katie Hopkins, who just returned from Australia that cancelled her visa over a quarantine breach. Former TV presenter turned conspiracy theorist David Icke was also present, as well as Piers Corbyn, the brother of the former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
Elsewhere in the UK, protesters went beyond chanting provocative slogans. In Manchester, a group of anti-vaccination activists sought to storm a local Covid-19 testing center, forcing police to deploy additional guards to the facility.
The protests come in response to the government plans to introduce the so-called “vaccination passports.”On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that a proof of vaccination will soon be needed to enter nightclubs and other venues that have just reopened this week. The announcement was met with widespread resentment and even angered some MPs, who vowed to vote against the measure.