Benalla affair: Opposition storms out of committee probing Macron aides
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The scandal surrounding Emmanuel Macron’s former top bodyguard showed no sign of abating on Friday as opposition parties quit a parliamentary committee that has been interrogating top presidential aides, describing it as a “parody”.
Alexandre Benalla, who headed Macron’s security detail, has been charged with assault and impersonating a police officer after videos emerged last week showing him hitting a protester and wrestling another to the ground during the May 1 demonstration.
Revelations that top officials in Macron's office knew about the Benalla incident but did not report him to prosecutors have prompted accusations of an attempted cover-up, triggering the biggest political crisis since Macron took office over a year ago.
Two parliamentary committees, one in each house of parliament, have been grilling top aides to Macron over the affair, with the president's chief of staff Alexis Kohler the latest to take the stand on Thursday.
Kohler, speaking before a Senate committee, acknowledged that officials' initial decision to punish Benalla with a two-week suspension may "appear insufficient" but at the time it seemed "proportionate".
Meanwhile, opposition members stormed out of the committee in the lower-house National Assembly, accusing its head, a member of Macron’s party, of seeking to protect the president’s entourage.
Christian Jacob of the rightwing Les Républicains party tabled a no-confidence motion against the government that will be debated in the National Assembly on Tuesday – a largely symbolic move, however, since Macron's centrists hold a strong majority.
"We're facing a very serious incident – the president must explain himself before the people. He cannot do it with the disdain and provocation with which he has done so thus far," Jacob told France Info radio, slamming Macron’s “monarchical leanings”.
The French president, who broke his silence on the Benalla Affair earlier this week, has angered critics by daring opponents to take him on over the scandal and ripping into the media for “talking nonsense”.
On Thursday, he dismissed the whole saga as a "storm in a teacup".
Earlier in the day, French newspaper Le Monde published an interview with Benalla in which the disgraced security aide denounced a "desire to get at the president" using the scandal.
Macron’s already-low approval ratings appear to have taken a further hit from the affair, with a record 60 percent reporting an unfavourable opinion of him in an Ipsos poll published Tuesday.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
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