French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, were confronted by maskless protesters during a Bastille Day stroll in a public garden, raising new concerns about their security arrangements.
A group of “gilets jaunes” — yellow vests — demonstrators spotted the Macrons and followed them, calling on the president to resign and shouting abuse as they walked with bodyguards in the Tuileries Gardens near the Louvre Museum in Paris on Tuesday, Agence France-Presse reported Wednesday.
In a video posted on the Gilets Jaunes Infos page on Facebook, a few dozen protesters boo and shout “Macron resign!” as they surround the presidential party, many of them recording on their phones.
“It’s incredible, we’ve stumbled upon the thorn in our side,” one protester is heard saying.
Neither Macron nor the demonstrators — who have staged numerous strikes and sparked violent clashes in cities across the country — wore face masks, recommended for preventing the spread of coronavirus.
The heated exchange, with security guards looking on, lasted about six minutes, the French news agency reported.
“It poses a real security problem,” the head of the opposition right-wing Republican 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 Macron keeps his cool, and is seen repeatedly urging the group to “be cool,” while taking time to listen to their gripes.
He says he understands their “feeling of injustice” but in response to complaints about alleged police abuses, he points 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.
The exchange ends with one protester thanking Macron for listening, and saying, “I cannot even curse at him” as the president turns to leave.
“All the better!” replies Macron, who had earlier presided over a ceremony commemorating Bastille Day, the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, during the French Revolution.
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 largely faded by the summer of 2019, though sporadic protests drawing smaller crowds have continued almost weekly since then.
The rallies, which started as a protest against a loss of spending power and Macron’s purported contempt for the common man, often sparked confrontations between rioters and police.