(AP Photo/Rafael Yaghobzadeh)

France: Macron calls for unity after anti-vaccine protests

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron appealed for national unity and mass vaccination to fight the resurgent virus and lashed out at those fueling anti-vaccine sentiment and protests.

About 160,000 people protested around France on Saturday against a special COVID-19 pass for restaurants and mandatory vaccinations for health workers. Many marchers shouted “liberty!” and said the government shouldn’t tell them what to do.

Visiting a hospital in French Polynesia on Saturday night Tahiti time, Macron asked, “What is your freedom worth if you say to me ‘I don’t want to be vaccinated,’ but tomorrow you infect your father, your mother or myself?”

While he said protesters are “free to express themselves in a calm and respectful manner,” he said demonstrations won’t make the coronavirus go away.

“I want to make a call for unity,” he said. He criticized “people who are in the business of irrational, sometimes cynical, manipulative mobilization” against vaccination. Among those organizing the protests have been far-right politicians and extremist members of France’s yellow vest movement tapping into anger at Macron’s government.

More than 111,000 people with the virus have died in France, which is registering about 20,000 new infections daily compared to just a few thousand earlier this month. Concerns for hospitals are resurfacing.

Overnight, lawmakers in the French Senate passed a bill allowing for the COVID-19 passes in all French restaurants and other venues and for obligatory vaccines for health workers. But they made so many changes to the version passed by the lower house that the bill must now go to a joint committee later Sunday to try to find a compromise version.

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