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.
Damien Tarel, a 28-year-old medieval history enthusiast, has been in custody since the assault on Tuesday, which a prosecutor called “absolutely unacceptable” and “an act of deliberate violence”.
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Tarel attacked Macron when the French president was shaking hands with members of the public during a walkabout in France’s Drome region.
Tarel said that several days ahead of Macron’s visit to the region, he had thought about throwing an egg or a cream tart at the president, but added the slap was not premeditated.
“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.”
Tarel faced a charge of assault against a public official, an offence that carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail and a 45,000-euro ($54,750) fine.
Macron has shrugged off the assault, calling it an “isolated event”, and he has promised to continue meeting voters despite concerns for his personal security.
Asked about it again during an interview on Thursday with BFM TV, he called it a “stupid, violent act” and suggested it was a consequence of the poisonous atmosphere found on social media.
“You get used to the hatred on social media that becomes normalised,” he said.
“And then when you’re face-to-face with someone, you think it’s the same thing. That’s unacceptable.”
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.