French President Emmanuel Macron received a rude welcome while greeting locals in southeastern France on Tuesday, when someone in the crowd slapped him in the face.
Authorities have arrested two suspects in connection with the incident, which was captured on video by multiple broadcasters and later posted online.
The incident played out in the small town of Tain-l’Hermitage, in the Drome region of France, according to France 24. Macron was leaving a job-training event at a local high school when he stopped to greet a crowd of locals.
Footage shows a masked Macron approaching the crowd to greet them across a metal barricade. Macron puts his hands together to greet them, then reaches out to a man in a green shirt and clasps his forearm.
“Montjoie, Saint Denis!” the man shouts, echoing an old royalist war cry. He then adds “Down with Macron!” and slaps the president in the face with his free hand.
Macron’s security team quickly rushes in to separate the pair and rush the president to safety.
Macron described the incident as an “isolated act,” in an interview with local newspaper Le Dauphine Libere.
“Everything goes well … We must not let isolated acts, ultra-violent individuals, like there had been some also in (street) protests, dominate the public debate: they don’t deserve it,” he said.
Macron said he didn’t have specific concerns after the assault.
“I greeted the people who were by the man’s side and made pictures with them. I continued and will continue. Nothing will stop me,” he said.
Far-left lawmaker Eric Coquerel pointed out that he heard the same royalist slogan before he was hit with a cream-filled pie in 2018. A supporter of the far-right Action France group was responsible for that incident.
Prime Minister Jean Castex sparked applause from lawmakers of all parties in the National Assembly on Tuesday, when he framed the incident as an attack on democracy itself.
“Democracy is about debate, dialogue, confrontation of ideas, expression of legitimate disagreements, of course, but in no case can it be violence, verbal assault and even worse, physical assault,” Castex said.
Marine Le Pen, head of the far-right National Rally party, also condemned the attack on her rival as “deeply reprehensible.”
“We can fight him politically, but we cannot allow the slightest violence towards him,” she said of Macron.
The French president has faced angry populist opposition for years, dating back to the rise of the yellow vest movement in 2017.
The identities of the two suspects were not immediately released.
—With files from Reuters and The Associated Press