French leader sacks bodyguard caught on video beating protester

In this April 26, 2017, file photo French centrist presidential election candidate Emmanuel Macron, flanked by his bodyguard, Alexandre Benalla, left, arrives outside the Whirlpool home appliance factory, in Amiens, northern France.

Eric Feferberg/pool via AP

French President Emmanuel Macron has decided to fire one of his security chiefs after video emerged of the man beating a student demonstrator. The video drew a fierce public backlash over what was seen as mild punishment and a possible cover-up. 

The video of the May 1 event in Paris, revealed by Le Monde on Wednesday evening, shows Alexandre Benalla in a helmet with police markings, and surrounded by riot police, brutally dragging a woman from a demonstration and then repeatedly beating a young man on the ground. 

“New facts that could constitute misdemeanour by Alexandre Benalla were brought to the president’s attention,” an official at the Elysee presidential palace said on Friday, according to the Reuters news agency.

“The presidency has decided to start Alexandre Benalla’s dismissal procedure” as a result of his actions the official told Reuters, which also reported that Benalla was being questioned by police.

In the video, the man being beaten is heard begging Benalla to stop. Another man in civilian clothing pulled the young man to the ground during the incident that took place in a popular tourist spot in the fifth district of Paris, according to the BBC.

Police, who had hauled the man from the crowd before Benalla took over, didn’t intervene. Benalla then left the scene at Place de la Contrescarpe, where about 100 people had gathered.  

The second man was apparently a gendarme who Le Monde said had worked with Benalla in the past. 

BBC News reports that the original video of the incident was posted on social media on May 1 by 21-year-old activist Taha Bouhafs.

An uproar over Benalla’s initial punishment — a two-week suspension and a change in responsibilities — forced top French officials to address the issue on Thursday.  

Benalla, who hasn’t commented on the matter, handled Macron’s security during the presidential campaign. 

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, responding to questions in the Senate, called the event “shocking,” but stumbled to respond to questions, notably whether all French are equal before the law. 

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said that the two men “obviously had no legitimate (reason) to intervene.” He said he has demanded that a police unit which investigates suspected criminal behavior by officers explain the rules for observers and verify whether they were respected. 

Condemning the “unacceptable behavior,” Macron spokesman Bruno Roger-Petit said that Benalla was also removed from his responsibilities of organizing security for presidential trips, though he maintains his office at the Elysee Palace. 

In addition, authorities 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. 

Possible charges include pretending to be a policeman, violence by a public official, and the illegal use of police insignia, BBC News reported.

Despite this, Benalla has been seen this month on the ground with police at several high-profile events, including the return home Monday of France’s champion World Cup team, an event attended by hundreds of thousands. 

Macron, in the Dordogne region to officially launch a new postage stamp, didn’t respond to questions about the scandal on Thursday. The upstart centrist elected last year had promised an exemplary presidency during his term to break with unending cases of corruption in French politics. 

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