More than 100,000 people across France protested Saturday over what they say are government plans to further restrict the rights of the unvaccinated, days after French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to "piss off" those refusing the jab.
The turnout was four times higher than the numbers who answered the December 18 call to protest, when 25,500 people marched across the country, according to government estimates.
The protests oppose a planned law that will require individuals to prove they are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus before they can eat out, travel on inter-city trains or attend cultural events.
On Thursday, France's lower house of parliament passed the controversial bill in a first reading. The government has said it expects the new requirements to be implemented by January 15, although lawmakers in the Senate could now delay the process.
Macron said this week he wanted to irritate unvaccinated people by making their lives so complicated they would end up getting jabbed. Unvaccinated people were irresponsible and unworthy of being considered citizens, he added.
In Paris, protesters retorted by adopting his slangy wording, chanting "We'll piss you off".
Others carried signs saying "No to the vaccine pass", a reference to Macron's legislative push to require proof of vaccination to enter venues such as cafes, bars and museums.
Interior ministry officials said 105,200 people participated in Saturday's protests across France, 18,000 of them in the capital Paris, where police reported 10 arrests and three officers slightly injured.
Elsewhere there were 24 arrests and seven police officers lightly injured according to the ministry.
Among the larger demonstrations, around 6,000 demonstrators turned out in Toulon, while in Montpellier police used teargas during clashes with protesters.
France recorded 303,669 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday amid mounting pressure on hospitals.
The number of coronavirus deaths in hospitals over the past 24 hours stood at 98,209, up by 142 from Friday’s figure. More than 3,821 people were in intensive care units, according to health ministry figures.
'No to vaccine passes'
In Paris, protesters, many of them unmasked, braved the cold and rain brandishing placards emblazoned with the word "truth" and "No to vaccine passes".
People in France already have to show either proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter restaurants and bars and use inter-regional trains. But with Omicron infections surging, the government wants to drop the test option.
Three months before a presidential election, Macron's blunt language appeared to be calculated, tapping into a mounting frustration against the unvaccinated.
Conservative challenger Valerie Pecresse said Macron was driving a wedge through the country. Far-right candidate Eric Zemmour denounced what he called the president's puerile remarks.
On the capital's streets, protesters accused Macron of politicising the pandemic ahead of the election.
"I want him to piss off drug dealers and criminals, not the average person," said one 55-year-old protester who requested anonymity because he runs a business.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)