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French president to fire aide caught beating protesters in May

Macron has drawn criticism because the incident wasn't reported to law enforcement authorities before.

French President Emmanuel Macron has decided to dismiss a top security aide after footage showing the assistant beating protesters at a May Day rally emerged.

The president's office said the decision to begin dismissal proceedings of Alexandre Benalla was taken after "new elements" were discovered in what is being described as the 38-year-old leader's first "scandal" since assuming power a year ago.

"New facts that could constitute misdemeanour by Alexandre Benalla were brought to the president's attention," an official at the presidential palace told Reuters news agency.

"As a result... the presidency has decided to start Alexandre Benalla's dismissal procedure," the official added.

Macron became the subject of public scrutiny when French paper Le Monde revealed his office learned of the incident three months ago but failed to inform law enforcement authorities.

French authorities opened an investigation on Thursday over the May Day protests where Benalla could be seen wearing a police helmet and identification tag dragging a woman away and stomping on another protestor's stomach.

Critics say the punitive measure taken against the bodyguard at the time, amounting to a 15-day suspension without pay, is lenient and accuse the president of trying to cover up the incident.

On a trip to southwestern France on Thursday, Macron declined to answer questions from reporters on the incident.

Asked if he had confidence in his security officer, Macron on Wednesday pointed at a member of his entourage and said, "He is my bodyguard."

A spokesman for the president however decried Benalla's behaviour on Thursday as "unacceptable".

"[Benalla] had been given permission to witness the demonstrations only as an observer," Bruno Roger-Petit said in a video statement. "Clearly, he went beyond this."

Paris prosecutors also said Benalla has been detained for questioning in the assault inquiry, where he also faces charges of impersonating a police officer.

A source close to the inquiry said three police officers have also been suspended on suspicion they provided Benalla with surveillance footage of the May 1 demonstration in an attempt to prove his innocence.

"He is suspected of receiving material from the police he was not authorised to have," the Elysee said.


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