Sun | Sep 19, 2021

French protesters reject bill requiring vaccine passes

Published:Saturday | July 24, 2021 | 1:52 PM
Thousands of protesters gather at Place Trocadero near the Eiffel Tower to attend a demonstration in Paris, France, Saturday, July 24, 2021, against the COVID-19 pass which grants vaccinated individuals greater ease of access to venues. (AP Photo/Rafael Yaghobzadeh)

PARIS (AP) — Tens of thousands of people, including far-right activists and members of France's yellow vest movement, protested Saturday across the country against a bill requiring everyone to have a special virus pass to enter restaurants and mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for all healthcare workers.

Police fired water cannon and tear gas on rowdy protesters in Paris, although most gatherings were orderly.

Legislators in France's Senate were debating the virus bill Saturday after the lower house of parliament approved it on Friday, as virus infections are spiking and hospitalisations are rising.

The French government wants to speed up vaccinations to protect vulnerable people and hospitals, and avoid any new lockdown.

Most French adults are fully vaccinated and multiple polls indicate a majority of French people support the new measures.

But not everyone.

Protesters chanting “Liberty! Liberty!” gathered at Bastille plaza and marched through eastern Paris in one of several demonstrations Saturday around France.

Thousands also joined a gathering across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower organised by a former top official in Marine Le Pen's anti-immigration party.

While most protesters were calm, tensions erupted on the margins of the Bastille march.

Riot police sprayed tear gas on marchers after someone threw a chair at an officer.

Other projectiles were also thrown.

Later some protesters moved to the Arc de Triomphe and police used water cannon to disperse them.

Marchers included far-right politicians and activists as well as others angry at President Emmanuel Macron.

Their anger focused on a French “health pass” now required to enter museums, movie theatres and tourist sites.

The bill under debate would expand the pass requirement to all restaurants and bars in France and some other venues.

To get the pass, people need to be fully vaccinated, have a recent negative test or have proof they recently recovered from the virus.

Lawmakers are divided over how far to go in imposing health passes or mandatory vaccinations.

More than 111,000 people with the virus have died in France, and the country is now seeing about 20,000 new infections a day, up from just a few thousand a day in early July.

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