French President Emmanuel Macron was slapped in the face on Tuesday by a man in a crowd of onlookers while on an official visit in southern France, in a filmed incident that quickly went viral online.
The video shows a masked man in a green t-shirt slapping Mr Macron in the face before his security team quickly intervenes to separate them and whisk the president away.
A government source confirmed to The Telegraph that the incident occurred on Tuesday during his official visit to the Drome department in southeastern France.
"Democracy is debate, it is dialogue, it is the clash of ideas, but it can never be violence, and verbal or physical aggression," Prime Minister Jean Castex told the National Assembly to claps by MPs. Lawmakers across the political spectrum have echoed his stance.
French President Emmanuel Macron is slapped in the face
The president had been meeting restaurateurs and hospitality industry representatives on the eve of the reopening of indoor dining across the country as vaccination speeds up and Covid-19 cases fall sharply.
In a video circulating on social media, Mr Macron, dressed in shirt sleeves, could be seen walking towards a crowd of well-wishers who were standing behind a metal barrier in the small town of Tain-l’Hermitage.
As Mr Macron approached, a man grabbed his forearm and shouted out "Montjoie Saint-Denis," a royalist battle-cry, and "Down with Macronia" ("A bas la Macronie") before delivering a slap to Mr Macron’s face.
Two of Mr Macron’s security staff tackled the man in the green T-shirt, while another moved Mr Macron away. But Mr Macron stayed close to the crowd for another few seconds before leaving.
The presidential administration said there had been an attempt to strike Mr Macron, and the local prefecture told French media the slap had been dodged. Mr Macron continued his visit as planned, the Elysée palace told The Telegraph.
Emmanuel Macron talks with students at the Hospitality school in Tain l'Hermitage as part of his nationwide tour ahead of presidential elections next year
Two 28-year-old men were arrested in connection with the incident and placed in custody for "voluntary violence on a person holding public authority," according to French broadcaster BFM TV quoting official sources. An investigation is underway.
The man has not been publicly identified. "At this stage of custody, their motivations are not known," said Alex Perrin, the public prosecutor in Valence.
The French president often greets and chats with crowds during official visits, and his travels of the past week had been announced as a Tour de France to meet citizens across the country just a year ahead of the presidential election.
The video quickly went viral online, with "Montjoie Saint-Denis," #gifle ("slap") and "Macron" trending on Twitter in France.
In June 2011, Nicolas Sarkozy, then president, was violently grabbed by the collar during a walkabout in Brax, in Lot-et-Garonne. But no sitting president had been slapped publicly while in office in France.
Shortly before being slapped, Mr Macron had been asked to comment on recent remarks from far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon who suggested at the weekend that next year’s election would be manipulated.
"Democratic life needs calm and respect, from everyone, politicians as well as citizens," Mr Macron said.
In July last year, Mr Macron and his wife Brigitte were verbally abused by a group of protesters while taking an impromptu walk through the Tuileries gardens in central Paris.
Mr Macron has undertaken several other tours since his 2017 electoral triumph over the traditional parties of government on the left and right.
A 2018 trip to mark the centenary of the end of World War I is best remembered for the scenes of furious citizens booing and heckling France’s youngest post-war leader.
It took place just as "yellow vest" protests were gathering momentum to denounce the government’s policies and the head of state personally for his leadership style, which was criticised as aloof and arrogant.