France was convulsed for the third weekend in a row on Saturday as mass protests against a planned tightening of coronavirus restrictions continue to anger segments of the public.
The Interior Ministry said about 204,000 people joined about 180 protests across the country on Saturday, French media reported, citing the police. It was about 44,000 more than marched a week ago.
France is currently fighting a fourth coronavirus wave. President Emmanuel Macron announced stricter regulations in mid-July due to rising infection numbers. Parliament approved the controversial changes earlier this week after heated debates.
The new law will have to clear the last hurdle on Thursday, when the Constitutional Council, convened by Prime Minister Jean Castex in response to the fierce criticism of the planned new regulations, delivers its opinion.
The compulsory vaccination requirement for all health workers and the extension of the so-called health passport, which shows holders have tested negative, recovered or have been fully vaccinated, have united more than just anti-vaxxers and Covid-19 deniers to ensure a diverse crowd at such demonstrations.
The diversity and the size of the nationwide protests also fuel fears in France of a new Gilet Jaunes (Yellow Vests) movement. The Gilets Jaunes began their demonstrations in 2018 as a regional movement against the increase in petrol prices. Their issues quickly expanded into a critique of Macron's centre-right government.
There were reports of isolated clashes on Saturday and TV broadcasts showed police employing water cannon. The Interior Ministry reported 19 detentions and three injured police officers.
Policemen help their injured colleague during a demonstration in Paris. Photo: Sadak Souici/dpa.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, tweeted that the government needed to take the protesters seriously, a sentiment echoes by the head of the country's far-left movement, Jean-Luc Melenchon. It's not too late to turn back, wrote Le Pen.
Number into perspective
Although 204,000 demonstrators is a significant number in the middle of the holiday season in France, it remains to be seen whether the protests will last.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin tried to put the number into perspective.
"When I see the parallels to the 4 million people who went to get vaccinated after the president's speech, then you see that the demonstrators are not in the majority," he told the newspaper Le Parisien.
An injured protestor is seen during a demonstration in Paris. Photo: Sadak Souici/dpa.
About 62% of the population has received one jab and more than half the population is considered fully vaccinated.
The rate of new infections per 100,000 people stands at about 214 in France.
The new regulations are supposed to come into force as early as August 9, so proof of identity for visits to bars, cafes, restaurants and to take long-distance train journeys will be required in just over a week. Some parts of the country experiencing high case counts already have tougher restrictions in place.