‘Freedom convoys’ leave France and attempt to enter Brussels

Hundreds of cars, campervans and trucks taking part in a Canada-style protest convoy against Covid regulations have left France and will attempt to enter Brussels on Monday where Belgian officials have already banned a demonstration following a weekend attempt in Paris.

'Freedom convoys' leave France and attempt to enter Brussels
Participants of the Convoi de la Liberte wave flags and wear yellow vests (gilets jaunes) as they stand on the roadside outside the Canadian memorial of Vimy, northern France. Photo by THOMAS LO PRESTI / AFP

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.

A small group made it onto the Champs-Elysées, where there were clashes between demonstrators and police.

IN PICTURES: Clashes on Champs-Elysées as Freedom Convoys enter Paris 

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.

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 28th, and is hoping to end the vaccine pass requirement by late March or early April.

Member comments

  1. Hopefully the pandemic will be over soon so the demonstrators won’t have anything to demonstrate about, it will be over and they all will have to return home.

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French pensioner pushed out of 17th-floor window ‘may have been victim of anti-Semitic attack’

An 89-year-old man who was pushed out of his 17th-storey window by a neighbour may have been killed because he was Jewish, a prosecutor said on Friday, after several shocking anti-Semitic murders in France in recent years.

French pensioner pushed out of 17th-floor window 'may have been victim of anti-Semitic attack'

The victim’s body was found at the foot of his building in Lyon, southeast France, on May 17th and the 51-year-old neighbour was arrested. But investigators did not initially charge him with a racist crime.

Last Sunday, the BNVCA anti-Semitism watchdog group said it would seek to be a plaintiff in the case, citing its similarity with the 2017 murder of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old thrown from her window in a case that sparked national outcry.

“After social media postings were provided to us, the prosector’s office has asked judges to consider the aggravating circumstance of an act committed because of the victim’s ethnicity, nationality, race or religion,” Lyon prosecutor Nicolas Jacquet told AFP.

He did not provide examples of the posts, but Gilles-William Goldnadel, a lawyer and commentator for CNews television, said on Wednesday on Twitter that the suspect had called out Goldnabel in messages, including one that told him to “remember your origins.”

“It’s no longer a question of telling us it’s the act of a mentally disturbed person. The truth of anti-Semitism must no longer be hidden,” Goldnadel wrote.

France has grappled with a sharp rise in violence targeting its roughly 500,000 Jews, the largest community in Europe, in addition to jihadist attacks in recent years.

The murder of Halimi drew particular outrage after the killer, who had shouted “Allahu akbar” (“God is greatest” in Arabic), avoided trial because a judge determined he was under the influence of drugs and not criminally responsible.

That prompted President Emmanuel Macron to seek a law change to ensure people face responsibility for violent crimes while under the influence of drugs, which was adopted in December 2021.

In 2018, 85-year-old Mireille Knoll was brutally stabbed in an attack by two men said to have been looking for “hidden treasures” in her Paris apartment.