PARIS (Reuters) – Accosted by protesters during a Bastille Day walkabout, France’s President Emmanuel Macron urged his hecklers to “be cool” in a testy exchange caught in footage that emerged on Wednesday.
Macron, who was strolling in Paris’ Tuileries Garden with his wife Brigitte after Tuesday’s annual parade and presidential address, spent several minutes engaging the “yellow vest” protesters on subjects from police to pension reform.
Nervous bodyguards watched on.
“It’s a holiday, I’m taking a walk, I’m being respectful … Be cool, don’t shout,” said Macron, who is struggling to lift low approval ratings in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
Some of the protesters chanted for him to resign and one repeatedly berated him over police on motorbikes used to control the anti-government “yellow vest” protesters who began taking to the streets from late 2018.
“I wish you a happy July 14th. You can protest, it’s a democracy. Have a good day,” added Macron, noting that some protests had turned violent.
“I hear you, I’ve heard what you’re asking for, but I’m asking a commitment from you, which is also to be cool – no violence, no stupid stuff, none. If not, we won’t get through this.”
Some people questioned Macron’s judgement going out in public on a day when demonstrations were expected.
“It was a verbal confrontation that turned out to be nothing serious, but it could have taken on different proportions,” conservative lawmaker Christian Jacob said on RTL radio.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday that Macron’s security had not been compromised.
“He is able to leave the Elysee (palace) to get some fresh air and meet French voters, which is a good thing,” he said.
(Reporting by Ardee Napolitano, Elizabeth Pineau and Laurence Frost; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)