Visiting Southeastern France on Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron was slapped by a member of the public, and two people have been arrested, local media reported.
The incident took place in the afternoon as Macron was greeting a crowd during an official visit to the village of Tain-l’Hermitage in the Drome region — part of his “tour de France of the territories” since the end of a COVID-19 lockdown and in the runup to June 20 regional elections.
He was meeting people working in the hospitality service industry at the hotel school, a day ahead of the reopening of indoor dining in restaurants, which have been shut since October as part of the lockdown measures.
An hour before the incident, Macron posted on Twitter from Drome that he could see “how much is expected.” “Tomorrow, a new step will be taken. Here, in a hotel school in Drome, like everywhere in France, I can see how much is expected. It is life that will resume in all our territories! It is part of our culture, of our art of living, that we are going to rediscover.”
In a video first posted on Twitter by a user called AlexPLille, Macron can be seen surrounded by personal security and gendarmerie forces while jogging up to a crowd behind a steel barrier. Across the barrier, a masked man dressed in a green t-shirt grips Macron’s arm and then slaps him across the face, shouting: “Montjoie Saint-Denis, down with Macron.”
French President Emmanuel Macron slapped in face during visit to Drome, Southeast France. pic.twitter.com/tJIXRAPsXb
— The Istanbul Post (@IstanbulPostUSA) June 9, 2021
“Montjoie Saint Denis” was an ancient battle cry used by the soldiers during the French monarchy.
BFMTV reported that two young men aged 28 years old — the attacker and the other who filmed the incident — were arrested for “willful violence against a person holding public authority.”
Moments later Macron, apparently unhurt, resumed shaking hands with the crowd.
The scene was reminiscent of a notorious 2008 incident when an Iraqi journalist threw a shoe at then-US President George W. Bush.
Macron is traveling to various parts of the French countryside to keep his ears to the ground and gather views, grievances from the public ahead of the June 20 regional elections.
Amid the lockdowns and restrictions triggered by the pandemic, there is a palpable resentment among the common French people towards the Macron government due to the hardships arising from rising unemployment, job losses, and closure of private businesses. The tensions are also marked by increasing incidents of violence. Even earlier during his presidency, Macron has been dogged by months of mass protests of the Yellow Vest movement against his rule.
The incident was quickly condemned by all political parties and opposition leaders. Addressing the National Assembly, Prime Minister Jean Castex expressed his concern, saying it is the democracy that is targeted: “Democracy is debate, dialogue, confrontation of ideas, expression of discord which is legitimate but it can’t be violence, verbal aggression, or physical aggression. I am calling for the start of the republic, we are all concerned about the fundamentals of our democracy.”
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, speaking to the media, called the attack “inadmissible.” “I am the first opponent of Macron, but he is the president: we can fight him politically, but we cannot allow the slightest violence towards him,” she said.
Jean-Christophe Lagarde, the head of the centrist and liberal UDI party, tweeted that the aggression against Macron is “unspeakable.” “When one wants to beat someone in politics, it is at the ballot box never physically! Physical violence has no place in a democracy.”
Leader of the Socialist party, Olivier Faure, said: “When we attack the president, it is the Republic that we slap. The political debate must find its way back to reason. Democratic exchange cannot be replaced by post-truth and invective.”