A convoy protesting COVID-19 restrictions has breached police defences and driven into central Paris, snarling traffic around the Arc de Triomphe and on the Champs Elysees.
Protesters in cars, campervans, tractors and other vehicles converged on Paris from Lille, Perpignan, Nice and other cities late on Friday.
This was despite warnings from Paris authorities they would be barred from entering the capital.
Inspired by horn-blaring “Freedom Convoy” demonstrations in Canada, dozens of vehicles slipped through the police cordon, impeding traffic around the 19th century arch and the top of the boutique-lined Champs Elysees, a magnet for tourists.
Inside the city’s limits, motorists in the “Freedom Convoy” waved tricolour flags and honked in defiance of the police ban.
On the Champs Elysees, clouds of tear gas used by police swirled through the terraces of bars and restaurants.
Night of violence
Riot police also threw tear gas grenades to keep order at an authorised street protest where demonstrators, including some “Yellow Vests”, railed against French President Emmanuel Macron’s coronavirus vaccine pass rules and the cost of living.
On the Champs Elysees, police continued using tear gas into the evening as sporadic scuffles continued and one person who collapsed on the sidewalk was brought to hospital for checks, police said.
France requires people to show proof of vaccination to enter public places such as cafes, restaurants and museums, with a negative test no longer being sufficient for unvaccinated people.
“We can’t take the vaccine pass any more,” said Nathalie Galdeano, who had come from southwest France by bus to participate in the protests.
Police said they arrested 54 people, handed out 337 fines by and stopped 500 vehicles trying to get into Paris in the morning.
The Interior Ministry said about 32,000 people participated in protests nationwide, including 7600 in Paris.