Paris, France, Jul 15 – The security arrangements of French President Emmanuel Macron were brought into question on Wednesday after he was confronted by protesters during a walk in a public garden in Paris.
A group of anti-government “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests) demonstrators hurled abuse as he and his wife Brigitte walked with bodyguards in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris on Tuesday.
In a video posted on the Gilets Jaunes Infos page on Facebook, what appears to be a few dozen protesters boo and shout “Macron demission!” (Macron resign) as they surround the presidential party, many filming on their phones.
“It’s incredible, we’ve stumbled upon the thorn in our side,” one protester is heard saying.
Macron then engages in a close encounter with agitated men who wave fingers in his face while complaining about economic inequality and heavyhanded policing of protests.
Neither Macron nor the demonstrators shown in the video were wearing face masks, recommended for preventing coronavirus contagion.
The heated exchange, with security guards looking on, lasted about six minutes.
– ‘Be cool’ –
“It poses a real security problem,” the head of the opposition rightwing Republicans party, Christian Jacob, told French television. “How can the president of the republic take such risks?”
Leftist leader Jean-Luc Melenchon said Macron should have been more “cautious” as “a president walking in the Tuileries where there are so many people should expect to come across detractors”.
But government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday the incident underlined Macron’s “absolute openness to dialogue”, pointing out that his opponents often criticise him for being too distant from the people.
“The president of the republic can leave the Elysee, and fortunately so,” Attal said of the official presidential residence.
In the video, Macron is seen repeatedly urging the group confronting him to “be cool” while taking time to listen to some of their gripes.
He said he understood their “feeling of injustice” but in response to complaints about alleged police abuses, he pointed out that “there are also violent people among yourselves”.
“This is a public holiday, I am taking a walk with my wife, and you are heckling me,” Macron tells one of them, referring to Bastille Day, a national holiday in France.
According to an official count, about 2,500 demonstrators and 1,800 law enforcement agents have been injured in weekly yellow vest protests that kicked off in November 2018.
The protests had largely faded by the summer of 2019, though sporadic protests drawing much smaller crowds have continued almost weekly since then.
The rallies, which started as a protest against a loss of spending power and Macron’s perceived contempt for ordinary people, often sparked confrontations and riots.
Activists say two dozen civilians lost an eye as police used rubber bullets to quell the violence, and five lost a hand to stun grenades.