Convoys have set off from French cities bound for Paris where they plan to block roads in protest against France’s Covid restrictions, having been inspired by a Canadian lorry drivers' movement.
Hundreds of drivers are expected to cause disruption on the streets of the capital, a day after police banned the protest.
The Parisian police authority issued a ban on motor protests from Friday to Monday. It said anyone caught blocking public roads could be sentenced to two years in prison, fined €4,500 ($5,125) and banned from driving for three years.
In the central city of Lyon, lorries, cars and campervans were seen snaking their way through the streets, blaring their horns.
Some vehicles were decorated with signs reading “I support the Freedom Convoy”.
Bystanders were seen waving the French national flag as the drivers began their journey for Paris.
A tractor with yellow high-vis vests hanging from its mirrors was among the vehicles driving through Lyon. The Freedom Convoy movement is primarily protesting against France’s Covid-19 pass. However, it has shown signs of evolving into a wider protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s coronavirus policies.
Since mid-January, people in France have had to show proof of vaccination to gain entry to bars, restaurants, cinemas and other public places. Previously, the Covid pass included an option of showing a negative test or proof of recent infection.
Another convoy departed the town of Brest, north-west France, on Friday morning to make the six-hour journey to the capital.
Some drivers displayed signs and flags on their vehicles.
One protester told AFP that French people are being “robbed of many freedoms” under a pretext that has “nothing to do with science and even less [with] medicine”.
The French protesters have shared images of lorry drivers in Canada who have blockaded border crossings and paralysed central Ottawa while demanding an end to their country’s Covid-19 restrictions, including a rule for all truckers entering Canada to be fully vaccinated.
Some far-right and other figures in France appeared to be trying to revitalise their own protest movements, which represent a small minority of French citizens, by capitalising on the global attention on the Canadian blockade.
A separate protest has been planned in the Belgian capital Brussels on Monday.
Police in Paris announced the ban on the convoy on Thursday. “The stated objective of these demonstrations is to ‘block the capital’ by preventing road traffic from circulating in order to further their demands … from Friday, before moving on to Brussels on Monday,” police said.
The authority said due to the “risk to public order, these protests will be banned from February 11 to 14”.
The announcement came after convoys of cars, vans and motorbikes began leaving French cities on Wednesday and Thursday in the hope of reaching Paris.
Groups of protesters were given colourful send-offs from Nice in the south-east, Bayonne in the south-west, Strasbourg in the north-east and Cherbourg in the north-west.