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Tens of thousands protest COVID vaccine pass across France

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By Thomas Blade  with AFP
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Tens of thousands protest COVID vaccine pass across France
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President Emmanuel Macron said he wanted to annoy them…and annoy them he did as tens of thousands protested the proposed vaccine pass on Saturday. 

More than 105,200 people took part in protests across France on Saturday according to the Interior Ministry, four times more than during the previous protest on December 18. 

In their crosshair is the bill currently making its way through the National Assembly that will transform the COVID health pass in use since July 2021 into a vaccine pass. The law, which the government hopes to roll out in the latter half of the month, will restrict access to bars and restaurants, culture and leisure venues and long-distance public transport to fully-vaccinated people or those who have recovered from the disease. A negative test will no longer be accepted.

Macron justified the law earlier this month by telling Le Parisien newspaper that "the unvaccinated, I really want to piss them off. And so we will continue to do so, to the bitter end. That's the strategy."

He accused those who remain resistant to the vaccine of failing in their duties as citizens. 

In Paris, where the largest protest was held with an estimated 18,000 taking part, it took on the appearance of a political meeting, with several far-right personalities coming to support the demonstrators, including Marine Le Pen's niece Marion Maréchal (via video message), the very conservative Jean-Frédéric Poisson, who supports Eric Zemmour, and former Donald Trump advisor Steve Bannon.

"Every vaccinated person is a future non-vaccinated person" because of the need to carry out one or more booster shots, far-right presidential candidate Florian Philippot said during a speech. "Every French person is in the crosshairs of the liberticidal madness of Macron the madman", he added. 

Other smaller protests were held in Lyon, Dijon, Saint-Etienne and Bordeaux, Colmar, Mulhouse and Strasbourg. 

A demonstrator from Bordeaux, who was not vaccinated against COVID-19 "but not anti-vaccine", said she was marching "for the first time in her life" because the President's words had "been the straw that broke the camel's back."

Clashes between demonstrators and police marred the demonstration in Montpellier, which brought together 3,700 people according to the prefecture. In Toulouse, where there were also incidents with the 2,200 people participating according to the authorities.

Thousands of people also took to the streets on Saturday in Austria to protest the country's vaccine mandate announced in November and coming into force next month.