Pouring rain is rarely a good omen for a big turnout but in the French capital on Saturday, tens of thousands defied the weather and took to the streets to express their anger and opposition to the latest restrictions the government wants to bring in to tackle the spread of COVID.
Across the city, you heard chants of “liberte”, demands for freedom – freedom to choose whether to be vaccinated or not. And demands not to be penalised if you choose no.
Simply put, the government plans to bar anyone who isn’t fully vaccinated from places like bars and restaurants.
Proof of a negative COVID test will not be enough as it is currently and that has provoked outrage amongst many.
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Chants of “liberte” could be heard in Paris. Pic: AP
Amongst the thousands marching we meet Ava Pezzino, a young French woman. She isn’t wearing a mask even though it’s mandatory to do so outdoors in Paris.
She tells us: “It is crazy. You cannot segregate people. You cannot penalise people”.
Nearby and next to a sign saying “Apartheid” – a form of which many on the march argue the planned legislation would create – we meet Richard Hallocou.
He had to be vaccinated because of his job and he isn’t happy about it.
He’s furious that the government wants to treat the unvaccinated differently.
“We had to come because we do not agree with this. We are saying to our politicians stop this. No,” he says.
There were similar demonstrations across France
He calls the language used by Emmanuel Macron this week “disgusting” when the president talked about making life hard for the unvaccinated.
The French president said he wanted to “p*** off” those who refuse to be jabbed.
And in the crowd, there are posters turning Macron’s own words back on him.
Make life hard for us and we will make life hard for you.
And that to a president facing an election in a few months’ time.
A protester holds a placard that reads “Macron killed me”‘ during a rally. Pic: AP
The scene in Paris was replicated in towns and cities across France. The strength of feeling amongst those opposed to the proposed legislation is growing.
The overwhelming majority of people protested peacefully but there were some clashes with the police.
And disturbingly, dozens of MPs who back Macron’s plans have received death threats.
Outside Carole Bureau-Bonnard constituency office, it’s still possible to see the traces of graffiti that have been painted over on the front of the building.
Traces of graffiti can be seen on MP Carole Bureau-Bonnard’s constituency office
The process has had to be repeated many times. And she and her family have been personally threatened.
She tells us: “Lots of emails with the title ‘We’re going to kill you’. Threats of beheadings, and being stabbed.”
“They said ‘We are bullet makers, so the next bullet that lands on you will come from here’. And then I also received threats at my home, mentioning further vandalism.
“This has now gained momentum and the fact that we were threatened in our home. And we also received a bullet, in an envelope sent to our home.”
Protesters took to the streets in Paris
She calls the threats “worrying” but insists the legislation will make a difference and hopefully encourage more people to get jabbed.
And the fact is France has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe and many people are fully behind requiring proof of vaccination.
Many of them are fully behind requiring proof of vaccination, so-called health passes, to access bars and restaurants.
But the voices of those who reject vaccination, and those who reject different treatment for those who say no, are loud and likely to grow if the legislation passes.