PARIS (Dispatches) — Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across France on Saturday to protest against the Covid-19 health pass that is now obligatory for entrance to many public cultural venues.
Authorities estimated that some 150,000 demonstrators would take part in Saturday’s demonstrations. Some 161,000 people gathered at similar protests last week and 110,000 took to the streets a week earlier.
Thousands marched through Paris, with police in full riot gear using their fists to push demonstrators back and firing tear gas against crowds.
Some 3,000 security forces deployed around the French capital for a third Saturday of protests. Police took up posts along Paris’ Champs-Elysees to guard against an invasion of the famed avenue by rowdy demonstrators.
Protests were planned in more than 150 French cities, including Montpellier, Bordeaux, Marseille, Nice and Nantes. Four separate protests were held Saturday in Paris, with “liberty” 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.
According to the results of a Harris Interactive x Euros Agency study for LCI published on Friday, 4 in 10 French people say they support the demonstrations. Among those who support the protesters, 65 percent said do so because they oppose the obligatory nature of the new measures and “not having a choice”.
As of July 21, people wanting to enter French cinemas, museums, sporting matches and other cultural venues need to show proof of a Covid-19 vaccination or a negative test as the country battles a spike in cases from the Delta variant. The so-called health pass, or passe sanitaire, is required for all events or places with more than 50 people.
Once indoors, people can take off their face masks but masks must still be worn inside shops or businesses
or on public transportation.
Beginning in August, the pass will become obligatory for access to shopping centers, cafés and restaurants – even on France’s famed outdoor terraces.
Participants in the two previous weekend protests included die-hard yellow vest protesters and others who believe the health pass limits their freedom. Police used water cannon and tear gas to confront them, including after some protesters moved to the Arc de Triomphe, at the top of the Champs-Elysees.
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.
More than 111,800 people have died of the virus in France since the start of the pandemic.