An unidentified protester on Tuesday slapped Frech President Emmanuel Macron in the face during a walkabout in southern France, an incident the country’s Prime Minister, Jean Castex, alongside opposition leader, Marine Le Pen, have described as an affront to democracy.
In a video circulating on social media, Macron reached out his hand to greet a man in a small crowd of onlookers standing behind a metal barrier as the president visited a professional training college for the hospitality industry.
The man, who was dressed in a khaki T-shirt, then shouted “Down with Macronia” (“A Bas La Macronie”) and slapped Macron on the left side of his face. He could also be heard shouting “Montjoie Saint Denis”, the battle cry of the French army when the country was still under the monarchial rule.
Two of Macron’s security detail tackled the man in the T-shirt, and another ushered Macron away. The president briefly remained near the crowd, gesturing to someone on the other side of the barrier, before his security agents moved him away.
According to the police, two people have been arrested in connection with the incident, and that the identity of the man who slapped Macron, and his motives were unclear.
Macron was on a visit to the Drome region to meet restaurateurs and students and talk about returning to a normal life after the COVID-19 pandemic when the incident happened. According to sources, the tour was one of a series of visits he is making to take the nation’s pulse before a presidential election next year.
Reacting to the incident, the prime minister said that the assault on the country’s president represents a detour from what democracy stands for.
“Democracy can never be about violence, verbal aggression, and even less about physical aggression. I call for a republican awakening, we are all concerned, the foundations of our democracy are at stake,” he told parliament.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who has often accused Macron of being detached from the challenges of ordinary people and who polls project would be his main challenger in 2022, also criticized the attack.
“I am Emmanuel Macron’s No. 1 opponent, but he is the president. We can fight him politically but we cannot allow the slightest violence towards him,” she wrote on Twitter.
The local mayor, Xavier Angeli, told journalists that Macron urged his security to “leave him, leave him” as the offender was being held to the ground.
It would be recalled that in 2016, Macron, who was economy minister at the time, was pelted with eggs by hard-left trade unionists during a strike against labour reforms. Macron described that incident as “par for the course” and said it would not curb his determination.
Two years later, anti-government “yellow vest” protesters heckled and booed Macron in an incident that government allies said left the president shaken.