Emmanuel Macron has insisted that he will continue to meet with the public despite security fears after he was attacked on a walk.
The French president spoke up when an opinion poll suggested his popularity is on the rise. The latest Ifop poll shows that Macron has gained 7 percentage points over the last month and is now viewed favorably by 50% of people.
The Paris Match poll also showed that support for far-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon had plummeted 10 points to less than 30% after he was accused of spreading conspiracy theories.
Macron is on a political tour of France making two visits to meet people outside of Paris a week for the next five weeks in the run-up to regional elections later this month.
On a visit to the Drôme department on Tuesday, the president was slapped as he greeted members of the public who had come to see him.
Subsequently, Macron, who was removed by one of his security team after he appeared to want to confront the man who had beaten him, was optimistic about the incident.
“Stupidity is one thing, but when stupidity turns to violence, that is unacceptable. We must not confuse the two, ”he said later, as he walked with his wife, Brigitte, and surrounded by crowds.
“Ira, I get it. I accept that there is anger that can be legitimately expressed. I am in contact with people regularly. They express their anger and discomfort and I am always there [to hear it]. Sometimes I have an answer, sometimes I don’t.
“But violence? No, not in a democracy. “
He added: “I will keep going everywhere. We must not give in to violence and in particular violence against public servants. And we shouldn’t waste too much time on this. “
The Elysee said the incident “would change nothing” regarding Macron’s planned visits, adding that life continued “seconds later.”
“It was an isolated incident. We will wait to know the motivations [the person] it had, realistic or not, and its details, “said a spokesman.
The man who slapped the president, a 28-year-old named just Damien T, was still in police custody on Wednesday.
Investigators said they did not know him prior to the incident. French media reported that a background search revealed that he was registered with various far-right sites and influencers.
It was also said that he was president of two associations dedicated to ancient fighting techniques in Europe. A photograph on his Instagram account showed him dressed as a medieval knight with a long sword. This was believed to explain the royalist motto that screamed: “Montjoie Saint Denis!”, The battle cry of French soldiers in the Crusade armies of the Capétien dynasty.
However, Loïc Dauriac, one of Damien T’s friends, gave a more mundane reason for the catchphrase, suggesting to AFP that it came from the 1993 comedy Les Visiteurs, starring Jean Réno as a medieval count.
Damien T and a second man arrested with him, Arthur C, also 28, who filmed the incident, will be formally investigated or released on Wednesday or Thursday. Damien T faces a fine of up to € 45,000 (£ 38,000) and a maximum of three years in prison if convicted of assaulting the president.
Pascal Bitot-Panelli, a former presidential security officer, said the leaders’ impromptu walks always posed a risk.
“Politicians want to be more in touch with the people and this is always a bit risky … but traditionally, the president does what he wants”, Bitot-Panelli said France Televisions.
Security teams had to be “permanently reactive.” He said security officials could advise against certain actions “if a visit could go wrong.”