Portugal Colonial - Truckers, others pour into Ottawa to protest vaccine requirements

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Truckers, others pour into Ottawa to protest vaccine requirements
Truckers, others pour into Ottawa to protest vaccine requirements

Truckers, others pour into Ottawa to protest vaccine requirements

Hundreds of truckers drove their giant rigs into the Canadian capital Ottawa on Saturday as part of a self-titled "Freedom Convoy" to protest vaccine mandates required to cross the US border.

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Flying the Canadian flag, waving banners demanding "Freedom" and chanting slogans against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the truckers joined thousands of other protesters angered by what they see as unfair Covid-19 restrictions.

More than two hours before the protest was officially to start, the streets of Ottawa's city center were packed with trucks as the blaring, non-stop honking of dozens of air horns filled the air, an AFP journalist reported.

"I want it all to stop -- these measures are unjustified," said one protester, 31-year-old businessman Philippe Castonguay, outside the Parliament building.

He had driven seven hours from northern Quebec province to make his feelings known: "The vaccination requirements are taking us toward a new society we never voted for," he said.

The protest movement originated last week in western Canada, where dozens of truckers organized a convoy to drive from Vancouver to Ottawa to protest Covid-related restrictions, particularly a vaccination requirement for truck drivers.

Both Canada and the United States imposed that requirement in mid-January, affecting drivers who cross the 5,500-mile (9,000 kilometers) border -- the world's longest.

The protest movement in Canada has rapidly gained steam as the original cross-country convoy was joined by others en route to the federal capital.

Their rallying point was Parliament Hill, in the heart of the capital, where the drivers hope to make the maximum impact on the Trudeau government.

- Government 'intrusion' -

"We shouldn't be forced to get vaccinated, regardless of the vaccine," Quebec resident Louise -- who had come to support the truckers but declined to give her full name -- told AFP. "It should be a personal choice."

She said vaccine passports "represent an intrusion in our personal lives."

Much of the protesters' wrath was directed at the prime minister. Anti-Trudeau signs and placards were everywhere.

There was a strong police presence around the federal capital, amid fears the protest could turn violent.

Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly described the situation as "unique, fluid, risky and significant."

"Let me be very clear," he told reporters on Friday, "we are prepared to investigate, arrest if necessary, charge and prosecute anyone who acts violently or breaks the law."

He urged local residents to stay off the roads.

The zone around the Parliament was closed for the weekend.

Police said they fear some demonstrators will stay beyond the Saturday protest, snarling traffic further.

Trudeau, who is currently in isolation after a Covid exposure, on Wednesday defended the vaccination mandate, noting that 90 percent of drivers are already vaccinated.

He called the truckers headed for the city a "small fringe minority" who do not represent the majority of Canadians.

Trudeau said Friday that the truckers' views -- which he described as anti-science, anti-government and anti-society -- posed a risk not only to themselves but to other Canadians as well.

The leader of the Conservative opposition, Erin O'Toole, urged the protesters to remain peaceful. He has promised to meet with the truckers.

The protest movement received an endorsement Thursday from Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who tweeted, "Canadian truckers rule."

To date, 82 percent of Canadians aged five or older have been vaccinated against Covid-19. Among adults, the figure is 90 percent.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance, a major industry group, said the vast majority of the country's truck drivers are vaccinated. It has "strongly disapproved" of the gathering in Ottawa.