By John Ikani
A French court on Thursday sentenced a man who slapped French President Emmanuel Macron across the face this week to a prison term of 18 months, 14 of which were suspended.
The court in the south-east city of Valence convicted Tarel on Thursday on a charge of violence against a person invested with public authority.
Damien Tarel, 28, who described himself as a rightwing or extreme-right “patriot” and member of the gilets jaunes economic protest movement acknowledged he had caught Macron with a “rather violent” swipe but testified that the attack was impulsive and unplanned.
“When I saw his friendly, lying look, I felt disgust, and I had a violent reaction,” he told the court in the southeastern city of Valence. “It was an impulsive reaction. … I was surprised myself by the violence.”
“I think that Macron represents very neatly the decay of our country,” he told the court, according to BFM TV.
“If I had challenged Macron to a duel at sunrise, I doubt he would have responded.”
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 just weeks from regional elections and 10 months from presidential polls.
“The political climate is turning to vinegar. It’s dangerous what’s happening,” senior leftist MP and regional election candidate Clementine Autain told France Info.
Others saw the assault as a sign of how Macron, a reformist former investment banker, continues to inspire visceral rejection 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.
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.