Man slaps Macron during visit to southern France

By Aurelien Breeden

PARIS — A man slapped President Emmanuel Macron of France in the face on Tuesday (8) during a visit by the French leader to the southeast of the country, prompting swift political condemnation as a video of the incident spread rapidly on social media.

In the footage filmed at midday by a witness, Macron is seen approaching a small crowd of people in Tain-l’Hermitage, a town in the Drôme region of France that he was visiting to speak with members of the food and restaurant industry before a new loosening of COVID-19-related restrictions this week.

As Macron was starting a conversation with a longhaired man wearing a khaki T-shirt, the man gripped his forearm and slapped the president on the face, the video showed. The man also shouted “Down with Macronie”, a term sometimes used derogatively to refer to Macron’s administration.

Macron’s security detail quickly pulled the man away and pounced on him. Local authorities said two people had been arrested in connection with the incident, including the man who slapped Macron, but they did not provide details on their identities.

“The president had gotten back into his car after visiting a school and had gotten back out because onlookers were calling him,” the prefecture for the Drôme area said in a statement to the Agence France-Presse news agency. “He went to greet them and that’s when the incident occurred.”

Macron’s office said in a statement that a man had “tried to hit the president of the republic” and that he had resumed talking and shaking hands right after the incident. French television showed him at a sit-down lunch event shortly afterward, apparently unharmed.

Politicians across the spectrum quickly condemned the incident. Jean Castex, the prime minister, told lawmakers that it was an affront to the “foundations of democracy”.

“Democracy is debate, it is dialogue, it is the confrontation of ideas, the expression of legitimate disagreements,” Castex told France’s lower house of parliament. “But it can never be violence or verbal assault, let alone physical assault.”

Even Macron’s most vehement critics expressed support. Marine Le Pen, the head of the far-right National Rally party and Macron’s main opponent in next year’s presidential elections, said it was “unacceptable” to physically attack the head of the French Republic.

“I am Emmanuel Macron’s first opponent, but he is the president,” Le Pen said at a news conference in eastern France. “One can fight him politically, but one cannot be violent in any way against him.”

Macron has shown an appetite for shaking hands, mingling with crowds, and vigorously debating ordinary citizens on the street, even more so over the past weeks as France lifts pandemic-related restrictions and moves closer to the 2022 presidential election, scheduled for next spring. But his style — part professorial, part adversarial — has sometimes made for rough interactions that quickly go viral and that critics say are proof he is out-of-touch and dismissive.

He once scolded a French student for calling him by nickname, infamously lectured an out-of-work gardener that finding a job was so easy that “if I crossed the street, I’d find you one,” and, as economy minister, snapped back at a union activist that “the best way to pay for a suit is to work.”

More recently, he expressed frustration over criticism of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by complaining that France was a country with “66 million prosecutors”.

Macron has also become the focus of intense anger from those who see him as a pro-business “president of the rich”, especially after the unrest of the Yellow Vest movement, and protesters have on occasion heckled and booed him. In July of last year, one group of angry demonstrators shouted at Macron and his wife as they were taking an impromptu walk in the Tuileries Garden of Paris.

Strolling up to citizens on the street is much easier for French leaders, whose movements are far less restricted by security services than their American counterparts. In the afternoon following the incident, Macron was back at it again, chatting with locals and posing for selfies on crowd-packed streets in the city of Valence.

-New York Times



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