Emmanuel Macron will continue to meet public despite assault

Emmanuel Macron has insisted he will continue to meet the public despite security fears after he was assaulted on a walkabout.

The French president was speaking as an opinion poll suggested his popularity is increasing. The latest survey by Ifop showed Macron gained 7 percentage points over the last month and was considered favourably by 50% of people.

The poll for Paris Match also showed support for the hard-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon had plunged 10 points to under 30% after he was accused of spreading conspiracy theories.

Macron is on a political tour de France, making two meet-the-people visits outside Paris each week over the next five weeks in the run-up to regional elections later this month.

On a visit to the Drôme department in southern France on Tuesday, the president was slapped as he greeted members of the public who had turned out to see him.

Afterwards, Macron, who was pulled away by one of his security team after appearing to want to confront the man who had hit him, was bullish about the incident.

“Stupidity is one thing, but when stupidity becomes violence that is unacceptable. We must not confuse the two,” he said later, while on a walkabout with his wife, Brigitte, and surrounded by crowds.

“Anger I understand. I accept there is anger that can be legitimately expressed. I am in contact with people regularly. They express their anger and upset 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 continue going everywhere. We must not give in to violence and particularly violence against public servants. And we mustn’t waste too much time on this.”

The Élysée said the incident would “change nothing” with regard to Macron’s planned visits, adding that life went on “seconds afterwards”.

“It was an isolated incident. We will wait to find out motivations [the person] had, royalist or otherwise, and his details,” said a spokesperson.

The man who slapped the president, a 28-year-old named only as Damien T, remained in police custody on Wednesday.

Investigators said he was not known to them before the incident. French media reported that a background search revealed he was signed up to a number of far-right sites and influencers.

He was also said to be president of two associations dedicated to ancient fighting techniques in Europe. A photograph on his Instagram account showed him dressed as a medieval chevalier with a long sword. This was believed to explain the royalist slogan he shouted, “Montjoie Saint Denis!”, the war cry of French soldiers in the Capétien dynasty armies of the Crusades.

However, Loïc Dauriac, one of Damien T’s friends, gave a more mundane reason for the slogan, suggesting to AFP that it came from the 1993 comedy film Les Visiteurs, which starred 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 put formally under investigation 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 found guilty of assaulting the president.

Pascal Bitot-Panelli, a former presidential security officer, said impromptu walkabouts by leaders always posed a risk.

“Politicians want to be more in contact with people and this is always slightly risky … but traditionally, the president does what he wants,” Bitot-Panelli told France Televisions.

Security teams had to be “permanently reactive”. He said security officers could advise against certain actions “if a visit could go wrong”.

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