A deafening emptiness echoed through the streets of Paris tonight as a draconian 6pm curfew brought in to suppress the spread of Covid-19 forced people across France to hunker down at home.
Striking pictures saw iconic landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe almost entirely deserted, while the Champs Elysees was devoid of the throngs of shoppers it typically draws.
The curfew ordering people indoors and businesses to shut was brought forward two hours to 6pm and lasts until 6am tomorrow.
Coronavirus has killed 70,000 people across France, which has the seventh highest death toll globally, and ministers fear more fatalities at the hands of the highly transmissible variant detected in Britain.
Prime Minister Jean Castex said in a speech: 'These measures were necessary given the situation. While worsening, it remains relatively better than many countries around us, but I took them because the context, notably with the evolution of the virus, means we have to have utmost vigilance.'
Scenes of quiet Parisian streets tonight were markedly transformed from earlier in the day when tens of thousands of protesters marched through cities across France to rail against a new security bill critics say would restrict the filming of police and posting images to social media, notably to document cases of police brutality.
Heavily armored police in riot gear were deployed to the demonstrations which saw activists waving smoke flares.
Striking pictures saw iconic landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower (pictured) and the Arc de Triomphe almost entirely deserted
The Champs Elysees in the centre of Paris was devoid of the throngs of shoppers it typically draws (police checkpoint pictured)
The empty gardens of Montmartre as the 6 pm curfew starts in Paris and the streets lay eerily quiet
The empty Concorde square: A deafening emptiness echoed through the streets of Paris tonight as a draconian 6pm curfew brought in to suppress the spread of Covid-19 forced people across France hunker down at home
Scenes of quiet Parisian streets tonight were markedly transformed from earlier in the day when tens of thousands of protesters marched through cities across France
Heavily armored police in riot gear were deployed to the demonstrations which saw activists waving smoke flares
The number of daily infections has hit a plateau at around 20,000, but the number of people entering hospitals and in particular intensive care units is still rising steadily. The government has also been criticised for the slow pace of Frence's vaccine rollout.
Renaud Piarroux, an epidemiologist at a hospital in Paris, said the curfew would have little impact in curtailing the new variants, which he believed would predominate within six weeks.
'We will have to make big efforts like the English and even the Germans. I think it's best to toughen things up now rather than later,' he told BFM TV. 'We have to anticipate. I think a new lockdown is inevitable.'
It came as thousands marched in Paris and cities across France, many of them angry about they say was the 'disproportionate' response by police when they broke up an illegal New Year's rave in Brittany that attracted some 2,400 people.
Estimates of the turnout varied widely between the authorities and the activists: while police put the total turnout across the country at 34,000, organisers insisted it was closer to 200,000.
In Paris, the marchers came out despite a rare snowfall, carrying banners with slogans such as 'Police everywhere, justice nowhere', and 'State of emergency, police state.'
'It's a strange dictatorship, one asks how far they will go with this law,' said one marcher in the northern city of Lille, who identified himself only by his first name Francois.
'If this is the case in the country of the rights of man and freedom, then I'm ashamed to be French!' he added.
A woman walks past Republique square minutes before the 6 pm curfew starts in Paris on Saturday night
The streets of Paris were virtually empty tonight after the 6pm curfew forced French citizens indoors and businesses to shut
A couple of people walk past the iconic Moulin Rouge in the French capital - which usually draws throngs of people
The curfew ordering people indoors and businesses to shut was brought forward two hours to 6pm and lasts until 6am tomorrow
The empty Champs Elysees avenue is pictured during the curfew in Paris
Protestors react as a tear gas canister lobbed by French anti-riot police officers lands at their feet during a protest against the 'global security' draft law
A Policeman moves a protestor away from the steps of Opera Bastille during a demonstration against the Global Security Bill and Covid-19 Restrictions of the Arts and Leisure Industries at Place de la Bastille
Police arrested 75 people across the country, 24 of them in Paris, said Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin, while 12 police officers and paramilitary officers were injured.
Police also intervened to break up an illegal rave near the Paris demonstration, Darmanin said in a tweet.
Footage of white police beating up an unarmed black music producer in his Paris studio on November 21 has amplified anger over the legislation, condemned by many as signalling a rightward lurch by President Emmanuel Macron.
Other recent incidents caught on camera have shown Paris police using violence to tear down a migrant camp.
The protesters are also against the use of ramped-up surveillance tools like drones and pedestrian cameras.
In the face of mounting protests, Macron's ruling LREM party has announced it will rewrite the bill's controversial Article 24 that deals with filming the police.
But left-wing protesters and rights groups insist the law should be completely withdrawn.
The 'marches for freedom' have been called by an umbrella grouping that includes Amnesty International and several unions, including those gathering journalists and film directors.
The proposal, which has already been approved by the National Assembly, will be examined by the Senate, France's upper parliamentary chamber, in March.
In less animated scenes, French skiers protested on the slopes in anger that the Government have closed resorts during the pandemic.
Thousands marched in Paris and cities across France, many of them angry about they say was the 'disproportionate' response by police when they broke up an illegal New Year's rave in Brittany that attracted some 2,400 people
Police wielding riot shields walk in the snow ahead of a demonstration against the Global Security Bill
A protestor holds a sign reading 'France, country of police rights' during the demonstration
French ski instructors descend a slope as they take part in a torchlight procession in the Chamrousse ski resort, French Alps, to protest against the French governments decision to keep ski lifts closed
Police officers are seen during a demonstration against the 'Global Security and Seperatism Bill' in Paris