Emmanuel Macron slap attacker Damien Tarel jailed for four months

French court sentences man who slapped president to 18-month prison term, with 14 months suspended

The man who slapped French President Emmanuel Macron during an election walkabout has been jailed for four months.

Damien Tarel, 28, was handed an 18-month sentence, with 14 months suspended.

The right-wing sympathiser has been in custody since the Tuesday assault, which a prosecutor at the hearing called "absolutely unacceptable" and "an act of deliberate violence".

He attacked Mr Macron when the French president came to shake hands with members of the public during a campaign stop.

Tarel was placed under arrest following the verdict from a court in the southern city of Valence.

Earlier, Tarel told the court that he had acted because the president stood for all that was wrong with France.

He added that several days before Mr Macron's visit to the Drome region, he had thought about throwing an egg or a cream tart at him, and said the slap was not premeditated.

Mr Macron described the incident as an "isolated event" as he greeted supporters and locals at the town of Valence the following day.

"I always seek out contact, within shouting distance, as we say. I want it," he said after the event.

In its verdict, the court followed a recommendation from prosecutors for an 18-month sentence, but said he should serve only four after a fast-track hearing.

Tarel could have received a maximum three-year jail sentence and a fine of 45,000 euros ($55,000).

Under French law, prison sentences of less than two years can be converted into non-custodial punishment.

Speaking to investigators following the event, Tarel said that he had "acted instinctively and without thinking" when he came face to face with Mr Macron outside a school in the village of Tain-l'Hermitage.

In court, he expressed sympathy for the anti-government "yellow vest" movement, according to the news channel BFM.

Convicted slap attacker said he had considered throwing an egg or a cream pie at the French president. AP
Convicted slap attacker said he had considered throwing an egg or a cream pie at the French president. AP

"Macron represents the decline of our country," he told the court.

Tarel, unemployed and living on benefits, said he had been annoyed by Mr Macron's decision to come to greet the crowd, BFM reported.

Asked about it during an interview with BFM on Thursday, Mr Macron called it a "stupid, violent act" and suggested it was a consequence of the poisonous atmosphere found on social media.

"You get used to the hatred on social media that becomes normalised," he said. "And then when you're face to face with someone, you think it's the same thing. That's unacceptable."

A second man from Tarel's home town of Saint-Vallier was arrested alongside him.

Police found weapons, a copy of Adolf Hitler's autobiographical manifesto Mein Kampf and a red flag with a gold hammer and sickle, the symbol of the communist movement, in the second man's home, local prosecutor Alex Perrin said.

Leaders across the political spectrum have united in condemning the slap, with many seeing it as a symptom of the fraught political climate and declining standards of public debate weeks from French regional elections and 10 months from presidential polls.

"The political climate is turning to vinegar. It's dangerous what's happening," senior leftist member of the French Parliament and regional election candidate Clementine Autain told radio station France Info.

Others saw the assault as a sign of how Mr Macron, a reformist former investment banker, continues to inspire visceral reactions from many French people.

His presidency was rocked by the anti-government "yellow vest" protests in 2018-2019, which were driven in part by anger at his economic reforms as well as his abrasive personality.

Mr Macron, 43, whose personal ratings have risen recently, is expected to seek a second term next year.

Polls show him holding a narrow lead over his main rival, far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Other modern French presidents have been the target of attacks and shootings, including postwar leader Charles de Gaulle and Jacques Chirac.

In 2011, right-wing leader Nicolas Sarkozy had a security scare in south-west France when he was grabbed violently by the shoulder by a 32-year-old local government employee.

Published: June 10, 2021 09:00 PM

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