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Macron security aide scandal deepens with minister under fire

© POOL/AFP/File | French President Emmanuel Macron, right, in front of his former top security aide Alexandre Benalla, who has been taken into custody after videos emerged showing him striking a young man during a protest

PARIS (AFP) - 

The most damaging scandal of Emmanuel Macron's presidency deepened on Saturday as his interior minister faces a grilling over his response to a top security aide caught on video striking a young man at a Paris protest in May.

Opposition lawmakers have demanded that Macron, who has so far remained silent about the incident, explain the government's response after the videos of aide Alexandre Benalla emerged this week.

Benalla, 26, was initially suspended without pay but on Friday Macron fired his former security aide, who was taken into custody suspected of unlawfully receiving police surveillance footage in a bid to clear his name.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb has been heavily criticised over the affair, with some opposition lawmakers saying his job is on the line after press reports that he knew about Benalla's violence.

Collomb will be publicly questioned on Monday morning by the Law Commission of the National Assembly, the head of the lower house of parliament announced Saturday.

Also on Saturday, three police officers were taken into custody suspected of providing the surveillance footage to Benalla.

They were accused of "misappropriation of images from a video surveillance system", as well as a "violation of professional secrets", the prosecutor's office said.

The Paris police prefecture said the footage was "improperly disclosed to a third party on the evening of July 18," the same night the newspaper Le Monde published the video that sparked the scandal.

That video, shot on a smartphone, showed Benalla wearing a riot police helmet and surrounded by officers, manhandling and striking a protester during a May 1 demonstration.

In a second video published by the newspaper late Thursday, Benalla -- who has never been a policeman -- is also seen violently wrestling a young woman to the ground during scuffles on a square near the Rue Mouffetard, a picturesque street in the fifth arrondissement.

The three senior officers taken into custody, who belong to the Paris department of public order and traffic, include a deputy chief of staff and a commissioner in the fifth arrondissement, as well as the commander in charge of relations between the prefecture and the Elysee Palace, said several sources close to the case.

Benalla's home in the southwestern suburbs of Paris was raided on Saturday.

Vincent Crase, a security aide for Macron's Republic on the Move party and an associate of Benalla's who also intervened during the May protest, was also taken into custody on Friday.

The Paris prosecutor's office said on Saturday that the custody of both Benalla and Crase had been extended by 24 hours.

© 2018 AFP