PARIS — President Emmanuel Macron of France was caught in a firestorm of criticism on Thursday after an aide from his office was identified in a video posing as a police officer and hitting a protester during a labor demonstration in May.
The man seen on the video was identified on Wednesday evening by the newspaper Le Monde as Alexandre Benalla, an aide to Mr. Macron’s deputy chief of staff who had been in charge of security during Mr. Macron’s 2017 presidential campaign.
On Friday, the office of Mr. Macron said that it would fire Mr. Benalla.
It was the latest in a string of recent controversies — including influence-peddling accusations against a close aide, a dust-up over an expensive new dinner service, and his scolding of a student — that have fed into accusations that Mr. Macron is a monarchical “president of the rich” who is out of touch with the French people.
Laurent Wauquiez, leader of the Republicans, a right-wing party, criticized the president on Europe 1 radio on Thursday morning. “When you are at the Élysée, you have to set an example,” he said, referring to the presidential palace. “And today, one has the feeling that at the Élysée, they think they are above the law.”
Mr. Macron, who was in the southwestern town of Périgueux on Thursday, brushed off questions about Mr. Benalla.
Asked by a reporter if the French republic had been “tarnished” by Mr. Benalla’s actions, Mr. Macron replied only “No, no, no, the republic is steadfast,” before moving on through a crowd.
The video was first published on May 1, when unions and left-wing protesters traditionally demonstrate around France — this year, Mr. Macron’s pro-business policies were particularly in the cross hairs.
The footage shows riot police in a standoff with protesters on the Place de la Contrescarpe, a small square on the Left Bank of Paris that is best known as a starting point for Rue Mouffetard, a narrow cobblestone street lined with shops and restaurants that is popular with tourists.
Mr. Benalla, wearing a riot police helmet but otherwise in civilian clothing, can be seen pulling a woman from one side of the square to the other. He then returns to the square, where police officers are aggressively dragging a man away.
Mr. Benalla can be seen grabbing the man from behind, dragging him, and then hitting him several times, including on the back of the head. The man falls to the ground, and Mr. Benalla leaves the scene shortly after.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said on Thursday that it had opened an investigation on possible charges of assault by a public official and illegal impersonation of a police officer, and France’s interior minister said the police were also opening an internal investigation.
It was unclear why Mr. Benalla had targeted the man in the video, and the French government had conflicting accounts of why he was with riot police officers in the first place.
Nicole Belloubet, the justice minister, told Parliament on Thursday that Mr. Benalla’s actions were “absolutely inappropriate” and that he was present at the demonstration “without an authorization.” But Bruno Roger-Petit, a spokesman for the president, contradicted that account, telling reporters in a brief statement that Mr. Benalla had asked his superiors to “observe” law enforcement at work on May 1.
Mr. Roger-Petit said that Mr. Benalla’s superiors had granted him the authorization to do so because he was off that day and because “he was only supposed to have a role as an observer.”
“He more than exceeded that authorization, and, as showed by a video, he physically intervened to take part in law enforcement operations,” Mr. Roger-Petit said, calling Mr. Benalla’s attitude “unacceptable” and adding that he was “immediately” summoned by the president’s chief of staff once his superiors had become aware of his actions. Mr. Roger-Petit did not say how long it took after May 1 for that to happen.
The move to fire Mr. Benalla came a day after he was suspended for 15 days without pay and was told that he was no longer in charge of organizing security during presidential trips. Mr. Roger-Petit said on Thursday that the disciplinary sanctions had been presented to Mr. Benalla “as a last warning before firing.”
Mr. Macron’s opponents had called the original sanctions too lenient and asked why the presidency had not referred the case to prosecutors, noting that the French penal code makes it mandatory for public officials to do so if they become aware of a crime.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the leftist party France Unbowed, said it was an “exceptionally serious affair” and that the presidency needed to clarify who was responsible for letting Mr. Benalla attend the demonstration.
It was unclear on Thursday how closely Mr. Benalla worked with Mr. Macron on a day-to-day basis, but the aide is seen alongside the president in pictures of several public events, and Le Monde reported that Mr. Macron’s chief of staff told him about Mr. Benalla’s actions on May 1.
“If we accept that anybody can act like a police officer alongside the police, then we are no longer under the rule of law,” Mr. Mélenchon told reporters at the National Assembly, France’s lower house of Parliament.
Mr. Roger-Petit, the spokesman, also confirmed on Thursday that a second man who had worked for the president’s office had been sanctioned for actions on May 1, although it was not immediately clear if he was also in the video showing Mr. Benalla.
The man, a reservist gendarme named Vincent Crase, was also an employee of Mr. Macron’s political party, La République en Marche, according to Mr. Roger-Petit, who said Mr. Crase was “occasionally mobilized, like other reservists” to help with the president’s security. Mr. Crase also received a 15-day suspension without pay, and the presidency has stopped working with him, Mr. Roger-Petit said.
Reports in the French news media said that despite the sanctions, Mr. Benalla continued to work occasionally on security outside the presidential palace, including during the burial of Simone Veil at the Panthéon and for the return from the World Cup of the victorious French soccer team, with footage showing him next to the team bus.
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