French police said Saturday that they stopped 500 vehicles trying to get into Paris in a "freedom convoy" protest against COVID-19 restrictions, in part inspired by protesters in Canada.
The vehicles were intercepted at three entry points into the French capital and more than 150 tickets were handed out, police said on Twitter.
Police have mobilized thousands of officers, set up checkpoints and deployed armored personnel carriers and water cannon trucks in preparation for the protests.
Inspired by horn-blaring "Freedom Convoy" demonstrations in Canada, the motorists – from numerous cities across France – were seeking to defy a police order not to enter the city.
France had mobilized thousands of police, armored personnel carriers and water cannon trucks in Paris on Friday to keep out convoys of motorists converging on the capital for a protest against COVID-19 restrictions.
Checkpoints were set up at toll points on major entry roads while riot-control barriers were erected across the city center ahead of rallies that the protesters aim to hold over the weekend.
As the evening rush hour got underway, police began checking drivers' documents at various entry points into the city center. More than 7,000 officers will be mobilized over the next 72 hours.
Convoy members exchanged information via social media on how best to slip into the city, avoiding a police presence that included heavy-lifting equipment to dismantle any makeshift roadblocks.
"We have always safeguarded the right to protest ... but we need harmony and we need a lot of collective goodwill," President Emmanuel Macron told newspaper Ouest France while urging calm.
His prime minister, Jean Castex, was blunter. Citizens had the right to protest but not gridlock the capital, he said.
The Canadian demonstrations, which have paralyzed parts of the capital Ottawa and blocked key U.S.-Canada crossing points, united truckers angered by a vaccine mandate for trans-border traffic.
But in France, it is ordinary citizens angry at COVID-19 rules who are taking to their vehicles. The protests show signs of uniting disparate opponents of President Emmanuel Macron, two months before an election in which he is expected to stand again.
A crusade by Macron against anti-vaxxers had been broadly supported, with 80% in France having been inoculated, but public irritation over COVID-19 restrictions including a widely enforced vaccine pass that has already triggered waves of demonstrations is growing.
In Toulouse, one woman cheering on motorists said the protesters should defy the police order to stay outside Paris city limits.
"The authorities cannot block everyone," she said, withholding her name. "The convoys must force it, they must still try to enter."
Some far-right politicians and remnants of the anti-government "Yellow Vest" movement came out in support of the protesters.
Some among a crowd that waved off a convoy of vans, motor homes and cars in Vimy, northern France, wore the high-visibility vests that characterized those pre-pandemic popular protests of 2018 and 2019.
The "Yellow Vest" revolt shook Macron's presidency over several months. What began as a protest against diesel taxes morphed into a broader rebellion against Macron and revealed deep-seated anger outside big cities at the high cost of living and a disconnected urban elite.
With spiraling energy prices and a strong economic rebound driving inflation higher, households are again feeling a squeeze on budgets and public frustration is simmering.
"The question everyone is asking is whether the freedom convoy going to be a renaissance of the 'Yellow Vests'," one investigative police source said.