PARIS (Dispatches) -- Protesters marched in cities across France on Saturday in a fourth consecutive weekend of demonstrations, denouncing what they see as oppressive rules compelling them to get COVID-19 vaccinations against their will and to show a health pass for daily activities.
They rallied through the streets of Paris, Nice, Montpellier and other towns waving placards reading “No to dictatorship” and chanting “Macron, we don’t want your health pass”.
The protests have united a disparate group against President Emmanuel Macron’s legislation, which is meant to help contain a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections spreading across France and help safeguard the country’s economic recovery.
Among the protesters are remnants of the anti-government “Yellow Vest” movement that shook Macron’s leadership during 2018-2019, and also other citizens who are anti-vaccine or consider the health pass to be discriminatory.
Last week, the French interior ministry estimated that 204,000 people had participated in the nationwide demonstrations.
The same turnout was expected at Saturday’s protests, a police source told AFP.
Vaccination rates jumped after Macron unveiled his health pass plans last month. Two thirds of all French people have now received one dose and 55% are fully vaccinated.
Similar health passes -- which show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test -- have been introduced in other European countries but France’s pass and its mandatory vaccine order for health workers are perhaps the most far-reaching.
From Monday, people will have to show a health pass to eat in a restaurant, access non-emergency treatment in a hospital or travel on an intercity train. They are already needed to access swimming pools, museums and nightclubs.
Health employees have until Sept. 15 to get their vaccinations or face suspension.
In the northern town of Cambrai, nearly every restaurant and cafe closed their doors to protest against the health pass requirements.
“We’re not against the vaccine. We’re against having to run checks on our patrons,” said bar manager Laurent Zannier.
The street protesters accuse Macron of trampling on their freedoms and treating citizens unequally. The president says freedoms carry responsibilities that include protecting the health of others.
Health Ministry data showed nine in every 10 COVID patients admitted to intensive care in late July had not been vaccinated. A majority of French support the health pass, surveys show.
France’s highest constitutional authority ruled on Thursday that the legislation complied with the republic’s founding charter.
Critics accuse Macron of running a health “dictatorship” by forcing people to get vaccinated against their will. They say the pass limits their movements outside home — and implicitly makes vaccinations mandatory.