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French police brace for clashes as anti-vaccine pass protests enter third week

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By AP
A protestor holds a sign which reads in French, "freedom" and "no to the Covid passport" as she attends a demonstration in Paris, France, Saturday, July 31, 2021.
A protestor holds a sign which reads in French, "freedom" and "no to the Covid passport" as she attends a demonstration in Paris, France, Saturday, July 31, 2021.   -   Copyright  Michel Euler/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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France braced for more protests on Saturday against the upcoming special virus passes that will be needed to enter restaurants, as police took up posts along Paris’ Champs-Elysees to guard against an invasion of the famed avenue by rowdy demonstrators.

Some 3,000 security forces deployed around the French capital for the third Saturday of protests.

Legislators have passed a virus bill requiring the pass in most places as of August 9 as virus infections are spiking and hospitalisations are rising.

Polls show a majority of French support the pass, but some French are adamantly opposed. The pass requires vaccinations or a quick negative test or proof of a recent recovery from COVID-19 and mandates vaccinations for all health care workers by mid-September.

Four separate protests were being held Saturday in Paris, with “liberty” the slogan of the day. Marches were also called in other cities around France.

'Absurd, unjust and totally liberty killing

Participants in the two previous weekend protests included far-right activists and die-hard yellow vest protesters and others who believe the health pass limits their freedom. Police used water cannon and tear gas sporadically to deter violence, including after some protesters moved to the Arc de Triomphe, at the top of the Champs-Elysees.

Among those not present this week is Francois Asselineau, leader of the tiny anti-EU Popular Republican Union party and an ardent campaigner against the health pass, who came down with COVID-19.

In a video on his party’s site, Asselineau, who was not hospitalized, called on people to denounce the “absurd, unjust and totally liberty-killing” health pass.

French authorities are implementing the health pass because the highly contagious delta variant is making strong inroads. More than 24,000 new daily cases were confirmed Friday night — compared to just a few thousand cases a day at the start of the month.

The government announcement that the health pass would take effect on August 9 after approval by the Constitutional Council has driven many unvaccinated French to sign up for inoculations so their social lives won’t get shut down during the key summer holiday season.

Vaccinations are now available at a wide variety of places, including some beaches. More than 52% of the French population has been vaccinated.

More than 111,800 people have died of the virus in France since the start of the pandemic.