By SYLVIE CORBET for the Associated Press
PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron was slapped Tuesday in the face by a man during a visit to a small town in southeastern France, an incident that prompted a wide show of support for French politicians from all sides.
The French president was greeting the public waiting for him behind barriers in the town of Tain-l’Hermitage after he visited a high school that is training students to work in hotels and restaurants.
A video shows a man slapping Macron in the face and his bodyguards pushing the man away as the French leader is quickly rushed from the scene.
A bodyguard, who was standing right behind Macron, raised a hand in defense of the president, but was a fraction of a second too late to stop the slap. The bodyguard then put his arm around the president to protect him.
Macron just managed to turn his face away as the attacker’s right hand connected, making it seem that he struck more a glancing blow than a direct slap.
French news broadcaster BFM TV said two people have been detained by police. Macron hasn’t commented yet on the incident and continued his visit.
The man, who was wearing a mask, appears to have cried out “Montjoie! Saint Denis!” a centuries-old royalist war cry, before finishing with “A bas la Macronie,” or “Down with Macron.”
In 2018, the royalist call was cried out by someone who threw a cream pie at far-left lawmaker Eric Coquerel. At the time, the extreme-right, monarchist group Action Francaise, took responsibility for that action. Coquerel on Tuesday expressed his solidarity with Macron.
Speaking at the National Assembly, Prime Minister Jean Castex said “through the head of state, that’s democracy that has been targeted,” in comments prompting loud applauds from lawmakers from all ranks, standing up in a show of support.
“Democracy is about debate, dialogue, confrontation of ideas, expression of legitimate disagreements, of course, but in no case it can be violence, verbal assault and even less physical assault,” Castex said.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen firmly condemned on Twitter “the intolerable physical aggression targeting the president of the Republic.”
Visibly fuming, she said later that while Macron is her top political adversary, the assault was “deeply, deeply reprehensible.”
Former President Francois Hollande of the Socialist Party tweeted that the assault is a “unbearable and intolerable blow against our institutions … The entire nation must show solidarity with the head of state.”
Less than one year before France’s next presidential election and as the country is gradually reopening its pandemic-hit economy, Macron, a centrist, last week started a political “tour de France,” seeking to visit French regions in the coming months to “feel the pulse of the country.”
Macron has said in an interview he wanted to engage with people in a mass consultation with the French public aimed at “turning the page” of the pandemic — and preparing his possible campaign for a second term.
The attack follows mounting concerns in France about violence targeting elected officials, particularly after the often-violent “yellow vest” economic protest movement that repeatedly clashed with riot officers in 2019.
Village mayors and lawmakers have been among those targeted by physical assaults, death threats and harassment.
But France’s well-protected head of state has been spared until now, which compounded the shockwaves that rippled through French politics in the wake of the attack.
Macron, like his predecessors, enjoys spending time in meet-and-greets with members of the public. Called “crowd baths” in French, they have long been a staple of French politics and only very rarely produce shows of disrespect for the head of state.
A bystander yanked then President Nicolas Sarkozy’s suit during a crowd bath in 2011 and his successor, Hollande, was showered with flour the next year, months before winning the presidential election.
Elaine Ganley in Paris, and John Leicester in Le Pecq, France, contributed to the story.