France's interior minister yesterday defended his handling of a video showing a top security aide to President Emmanuel Macron striking a May Day protester, a scandal that has rocked the government and prompted accusations of a cover-up. Speaking before a parliamentary commission, Gerard Collomb said his staff told him about the video on May 2, the day after Alexandre Benalla beat the man during a police operation to clear protesters from a Paris square.
But Collomb, who had faced calls to resign from opposition lawmakers, said his staff had informed the police and Macron's office about the incident. "It was up to them to respond," he said, adding that it was not his role to inform prosecutors.
Benalla is seen wearing a police helmet and armband in the video and Collomb told lawmakers he was also in possession of a police radio, even though he was only there as an observer, accompanied by an officer who was supposed to ensure he did not participate. Collomb said he did not know who invited Benalla to observe the May 1 demonstrations, which were marred this year by clashes between police and about 200 violent demonstrators who smashed shop windows.
Benalla, 26, was fired Friday after French daily Le Monde published a video taken by smartphone showing him striking a man at least twice as riot police looked on while breaking up the demonstration.
Le Monde later posted another video showing Benalla violently wrestling a young woman to the ground during the scuffles on a square near the Rue Mouffetard, a picturesque Left Bank street.
The government has been forced to suspend debate on a constitutional reform bill after a revolt by lawmakers, who have announced investigations by both the National Assembly and Senate. "Why the devil did he insist on protecting a second-rank employee who should have been kicked out of the Elysée months ago?" rightwing daily Le Figaro, which has made no secret of its support for Macron since his election, asked in an editorial Sunday.
Adding to the controversy, Le Monde reported Friday that despite his suspension Benalla was allowed this month to move into a palatial mansion along the Seine reserved for Elysée workers. He was also being provided with a car and chauffeur, the paper said.