PARIS—A man appeared to slap French President
across the face Tuesday during a visit to a small town in southern France, in a sign of how tensions are building ahead of next year’s presidential election.
In two videos broadcast on French television, Mr. Macron is seen jogging toward a small, cheering crowd standing behind a barrier. Mr. Macron leans in for a greeting, placing one hand on the arm of a man wearing a green T-shirt.
The man then shouts “Montjoie Saint-Denis! Down with Macrony!” as he winds up and appears to slap Mr. Macron’s face, causing the president’s head to jerk to one side.
Mr. Macron’s security service quickly intervened, pushing the man to the ground and pulling the president away. Two men were immediately detained by police, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said. A spokesman for the presidency said the man tried to slap Mr. Macron but declined to provide further details.
“Montjoie Saint-Denis” is a royal battle cry that dates back to the 11th or 12th century. It is still used in France as a motto by some far-right groups. “Macrony” is a term used by the president’s opponents to describe Mr. Macron and his allies.
Mr. Macron played down the incident in an interview with regional newspaper Le Dauphiné Libéré published on Tuesday evening. “Let’s not allow ultraviolent individuals to take control of public debate. They don’t deserve it,” he said.
The French public has a long history of accosting politicians, dousing them with flour or eggs.
However, voices across the political spectrum seized on Tuesday’s slapping incident to warn that the national mood had taken a dark turn.
“Are you now beginning to understand how violent people are acting on impulse?” far-left leader
wrote in a Twitter post Tuesday, adding that he felt solidarity with the president.
“This behavior is unacceptable and is deeply, deeply reprehensible in a democracy,” said
Marine Le Pen,
leader of the far-right National Rally party.
Ms. Le Pen and others of her party have railed against Mr. Macron, accusing him on being soft on crime, immigration, terrorism and radical strains of Islam.
In April, a group of retired generals published a letter in the far-right magazine Valeurs Actuelles, saying the spread of radical Islam and other ideologies was pushing France toward a civil war. In the letter, which was addressed to Mr. Macron, the generals demanded the eradication of what they consider threats to France’s national identity, ranging from the antiracism movement, which the letter said seeks to erase French history, to “Islamism and the hordes of the banlieues,” a reference to the working-class suburbs of France that have large Muslim populations.
Last month, Valeurs Actuelles published a second letter—this time from active-duty troops whose identities weren’t disclosed—warning about imminent civil war in France. The French government said both letters were a political maneuver by far-right forces.
Ms. Le Pen is Mr. Macron’s main rival in next year’s presidential elections. A recent poll conducted by Harris Interactive showed Ms. Le Pen garnering 46% of the vote in a runoff with Mr. Macron compared with the incumbent’s 54%. In the 2017 presidential elections, Mr. Macron won 66.1 % of the vote and Ms. Le Pen 33.9%.
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Appeared in the June 9, 2021, print edition as ‘Man Appears to Slap Macron as French Mood Shifts.’