‘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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Macron says it will be ‘decades’ before Ukraine joins EU

France's President Emmanuel Macron said Monday it would take "decades" for a candidate like Ukraine to join the EU, and suggested building a broader political community of democratic states around the bloc.

Macron says it will be 'decades' before Ukraine joins EU

“Even if we gave them candidate status tomorrow,” he said of Ukraine, “we all know perfectly well that the process of allowing them to join would take several years, in truth doubtless several decades.”

But, noting the urgence of giving Ukraine and other EU hopefuls like Moldova and Georgia a place in the heart of Europe, he called for the creation of “European political community”.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February, in part to thwart Kyiv’s tilt towards integration with the EU and NATO, and Georgia and Moldova are also partly occupied by Moscow’s troops.