Emmanuel Macron was slapped in the face by a man during a walkabout in southern France.
The president’s security detail immediately pulled the man to the ground and moved Macron away from the crowd, though the president appeared unhurt and determined to continue meeting the public.
Afterwards, the French leader said the assault was “an isolated act” that should be “put into perspective”.
“We mustn’t let ultra-violent individuals take over the public debate … There can be no violence, no hatred, not in speech or action. Otherwise it’s democracy itself that is threatened.”
A video of the incident showed the president, in a white shirt and tie, approach onlookers waiting behind metal barriers at Tain-l’Hermitage in the Drôme department.
Macron, wearing a mask, is seen reaching out to shake hands with a man in a green T-shirt wearing glasses and a mask.
Reuters reported the man was heard shouting “à bas la Macronie” (down with Macronism) before he grabbed the president’s right arm and delivered a slap to the left side of his face. He was also reported to have shouted “Montjoie Saint Denis”, the battle cry of the French armies when the country was a monarchy.
Two people have been arrested in connection with the assault, according to reports, and are being held for “deliberate violence against a person of public authority”.
Talking to the local newspaper, the Dauphiné Libéré, later, Macron said: “We must not let this overshadow the other issues that are so important to the lives of so many.”
Asked if he felt the political climate was deteriorating, the president replied: “No, I don’t want isolated individuals or those who go to extremes to somehow make people forget the rest. The French people are a republican people. The overwhelming majority of French people are interested in the fundamental problems.
“Let’s not let isolated events, the kind of ultra-violent individuals we also see in some demonstrations, take over the public debate. They don’t deserve it.”
Macron said it would not stop him meeting ordinary people on his visits and he had “no apprehensions at all”.
In fact, I went on and greeted the people present who were next to the man and I took photos with them. I carried on and I will carry on. Nothing will stop me,” he said.
The French prime minister, Jean Castex, said the incident was an affront to democracy.
“Politics 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,” Castex told the Assemblée Nationale.
Last week, Macron began a six-week political tour de France aimed at “taking the pulse” of the country as it emerges from the coronavirus crisis. In the run-up to regional elections this month and, more importantly, the presidential battle next year, the French leader will make two regional visits a week until mid-July.
He was in the Drôme to meet local restaurant owners and students to talk about how their lives are slowly returning to normal as Covid restrictions are lifted. Macron was accompanied by Guillaume Gomez, a former chef at the Élysée who was named the president’s “special adviser on French gastronomy”.
Alex Perrin, a public prosecutor in nearby Valence, told the Dauphiné Libéré that two local men aged 28 had been arrested.
“They are not known to police. One is accused of having hit the president of the Republic, the other was accompanying him,” Perrin said, adding the investigation was being conducted by the Drôme gendarmes. The person accused of violence faces a €750 fine if convicted.
The Élysée confirmed the video of the incident was genuine, but refused to comment further.
The far-right leader Marine Le Pen also condemned the assault.
“I say this with absolutely firmness: it is unacceptable to physically attack the president of the republic or political representatives but especially the president. I am Emmanuel Macron’s main rival, but he is the president of the republic and, as such, we can beat him politically but we cannot accept the slightest violence towards him. I consider this behaviour unacceptable and deeply deplorable in a democracy,” Le Pen told BFMTV.
The former Socialist president François Hollande tweeted: “Attacking the president of the republic is an unacceptable and intolerable blow to our institutions. In the face of this indescribable act, the whole nation must show solidarity with the head of state. In these circumstances, I send my full support to @EmmanuelMacron.”