Police have intercepted hundreds of vehicles trying to enter Paris as part of a protest against France’s coronavirus regulations.
Authorities have deployed more than 7,000 officers over the next three days in a bid to stop the demonstrators.
The groups were inspired by the self-styled Canadian “Freedom Convoy” which has disrupted trade on the US border and occupied streets in Ottawa.
Similar demonstrations have also taken place in Australia and New Zealand.
On Saturday, police in Paris said they had intercepted hundreds of vehicles heading into the city and issued more than 200 fines, as well as arresting two people who were allegedly carrying knives, hammers and petrol canisters.
A video posted online by a journalist and shared by the police showed officers halting lines of vehicles on the city’s ring road.
— Préfecture de Police (@prefpolice) February 12, 2022
Demonstrators – opposed to France’s Covid pass which requires people show proof of vaccination before entry to public venues – want to gather and blockade the capital.
Convoys have organised online and appear to come from various political and ideological backgrounds, making it difficult to estimate how many vehicles might arrive in Paris. They have also drawn in others angry at rising prices in France.
Prime Minister Jean Castex said in an interview on Friday that authorities would be “very firm” if the group try to block Paris.
“The right to demonstrate and to have an opinion are a constitutionally guaranteed right in our republic and in our democracy. The right to block others or prevent coming and going is not,” he told France 2.
Mr Castex also objected to the demonstrators calling themselves a “Freedom Convoy”.
The word freedom should not be associated with “virulent attacks against vaccination”, he said, because freedom is not “contaminating others”.
France’s protesters were inspired by the blockade in Canada, which has closed a crossing that sees $1.7bn of daily trade between Canada and the US.
Truckers there, objecting to a federal Covid vaccine mandate for those crossing the border into Canada, have occupied the Ambassador Bridge and camped on the streets of the capital Ottawa for days.
A court order ordering them to leave the bridge came into effect at 19:00 local time (midnight GMT) on Friday.
Copycat protests have also emerged elsewhere.
Some 10,000 protesters opposed to vaccine mandates arrived at Parliament House in the Australian capital Canberra on Saturday, local media reported, while police in New Zealand’s capital Wellington arrested more than 100 people on Thursday who blocked roads in the city.