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Benalla says he betrayed president, as Macron climbs in polls

TF1/AFP | This video grab taken from footage released by French television channel TF1 shows former top presidential security aide Alexandre Benalla, speaking during an interview on July 27, 2018 at the TF1 headquarters in Boulogne-Billancourt.

The former presidential security aide Alexandre Benalla at the center of a firestorm over his beating of a protester at May Day demonstration says that he committed "a form of betrayal" of his boss, French President Emmanuel Macron.

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The identification 10 days ago of Alexandre Benalla as the man in a video acting violently toward a protester has swelled into a political crisis for Macron. Benalla was embedded with police as an observer that day.

In his first TV interview, Benalla told TF1 that he didn't feel he had committed a "reprehensible" act, but conceded his actions were "not the role of a collaborator" of the president who "has nothing to do with May 1."

"It's not an affair of state," he said.

French paper Libération published on Thursday an account of a second incident that took place at the same May Day protest.

A 23- and 24-year-old have filed charges that Benalla behaved violently towards them earlier in the day on May 1 at a demonstration near the Jardin des Plantes.

Among the charges Benalla now faces is "violence in a group".

In the TF1 interview, he described his actions as "vigorous" and the "reaction of a citizen" to "rioters", but denied hitting anyone.

Macron up in polls

Nevertheless, despite the scandal, Macron’s popularity rose slightly in July, according to an opinion poll published on Saturday.

Macron’s ratings had slumped to fresh lows in June just over a year after he came to power, several leading polls had shown, with critics describing the ex-investment banker as out of touch over policies seen as favoring the rich.

But the self-declared “Jupiterian” president regained some ground in July in a Harris Interactive survey. His popularity climbed two percentage points to 42 percent despite the brewing political scandal and amid a possible halo effect from the French football team’s World Cup victory.

The survey was conducted between July 24 and 26, during which time Macron made his first comments on the Benalla affair, telling lawmakers from his party that he alone bore responsibility for the incident.

That appeared to improve his image in the eyes of those surveyed thereafter, according to Jean-Daniel Levy, head of politics and opinion at Harris Interactive.

The scandal “doesn’t amount to much that will really damage Macron’s next four years in office,” commented Christopher Dickey, foreign editor of The Daily Beast, on FRANCE 24’s The World This Week programme.

Macron’s standing improved the most among young people under 35 in the past month, the poll showed.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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