By ELAINE GANLEY
PARIS (AP) — A video showing one of French President Emmanuel Macron’s security chiefs beating a student demonstrator in May, until now cloaked in secrecy, is drawing a fierce public backlash over what is seen as mild punishment — a two-week suspension and a change in responsibilities.
The growing uproar forced Macron’s spokesman to address the issue Thursday, more than two and a half months after the event. Condemning the “unacceptable behavior,” Bruno Roger-Petit said that Alexandre Benalla was also removed from his responsibilities of organizing security for presidential trips — though he maintains his office at the Elysee Palace.
Authorities have launched a preliminary investigation that could lead to charges against Benalla, a judicial official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss an ongoing case.
Roger-Petit said the punishment dealt out to Benalla was the “most serious” ever given to a security director at the presidential Elysee Palace and served as a “last warning before dismissal.”
The video of the May 1 event in Paris, revealed by the newspaper Le Monde on Wednesday evening, shows Benalla in a helmet with police markings, and surrounded by riot police, brutally dragging off a woman from a demonstration and then repeatedly beating a young man on the ground. The man is heard begging him to stop. Police, who had hauled the man from the crowd before Benalla took over, didn’t intervene. Benalla then left the scene.
Opposition politicians expressed shock, with some denouncing a climate of impunity at the top of the French political hierarchy and asking Macron to personally address the issue.
The head of main conservative party the Republicans, Laurent Wauquiez, asked on Europe 1 radio if the government was trying to “hush the affair.”