Covid-pass protest convoy heads for banned Brussels rally
Demonstrators protests Covid-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions on February 5, 2022, in Toronto, Canada. Protesters again poured into Toronto and Ottawa early on February 5 to join a convoy of truckers whose occupation of Ottawa to denounce Covid vaccine mandates is now in its second week. (Geoff Robins / AFP)
(AFP) - Hundreds of cars, campervans and trucks taking part in a Canada-style protest convoy against Covid regulations were preparing to enter Brussels Monday where Belgian officials have already banned a demonstration following a weekend attempt in Paris.
Around 1,300 vehicles from across France had arrived near the French border town of Lille by late Sunday, according to police.
The protest is one of several worldwide inspired by the truckers' standoff with authorities in Canada.
Camped at a parking lot near Lille, protesters brandished French flags and chanted "We won't give up" and "Freedom, freedom."
"We'll go to Brussels to try to block it, to fight against this policy of permanent control," said Jean-Pierre Schmit, an unemployed 58-year-old who came from Toulouse.
For Sandrine, 45, who came from Lyon, the government's response to the Covid crisis had revealed that "we're losing our freedoms bit by bit, in an insidious way."
The latest self-proclaimed "freedom convoy" comes after 97 people were arrested at the weekend in Paris where thousands of demonstrators defied a ban on attempting to blockade the French capital.
In France, the demonstrators took aim at the "vaccine pass" required to enter restaurants, cafes and many other public venues implemented as part of President Emmanuel Macron's inoculation drive.
- Border checks -
Belgian authorities have banned all demonstrations in the capital with "motorised vehicles" and said they had taken measures to prevent the blocking of the Brussels region.
Brussels police have posted on social media warning that vehicle protests are banned and advising against travelling to the capital by car, channelling convoys to a parking lot on the outskirts of the city as the only place where a static protest will be tolerated.
Some participants in a similar demonstration organised in The Hague have also announced their intention to go to Belgium.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo had however advised the demonstrators to abandon their plans to come to Brussels.
"I say to those who come from abroad: look at the rules in Belgium. We never had rules that were too hard and we don't have so many anymore. So complain at home," he said Friday.
Checks are planned at the border and vehicles coming to the capital despite the ban will be diverted, Belgian authorities warned.
Brussels airport also advised travellers to take precautions on Monday and come by train for fear of blocking access routes.
The self-proclaimed "freedom convoy" is one of several worldwide inspired by a truckers' standoff with authorities in Canada over vaccine mandates.
While French police counted 3,000 vehicles outside Paris on Friday evening, only around a hundred made it to the Champs-Elysees avenue in the heart of the capital on Saturday before being forced out after officers deployed tear gas to disperse the protesters.
In Canada, police on Sunday cleared demonstrators who had occupied a key US border bridge for a week but thousands of protesters remained in the capital Ottawa, where they have paralysed the city centre.
The French protest movement brings together those opposed to the Covid vaccine pass required to access many public venues but also some angry at rising energy and food prices, issues which ignited the "yellow vest" protests that shook France in late 2018 and early 2019.
The French government has said it plans to relax face mask mandates by February 28, and is hoping to end the vaccine pass requirement by late March or early April.
© Agence France-Presse