Macron aide: French MPs grill minister in beating row

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Media captionA student activist filmed a woman and a man being beaten on 1 May

France's interior minister has been grilled by MPs over his handling of a policing scandal in which a presidential security aide was filmed assaulting a demonstrator on 1 May.

Gérard Collomb said he learned of the video on 2 May and did not report it to prosecutors because it was a matter for President Emmanuel Macron's staff.

Mr Macron fired the aide, Alexandre Benalla, on Friday, but MPs want to know why he did not act sooner.

Mr Benalla, 26, faces several charges.

He is accused of assault with an accomplice, interfering in police work, impersonating a police officer and illegally receiving surveillance footage.

On Monday Mr Benalla, who was Mr Macron's top bodyguard during last year's election campaign, defended his actions, claiming that he was "lending a hand" to the riot officers at the scene after he was "invited to observe" their operations.

He added that he believed his behaviour was being exploited for "media and political ends", his lawyers said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Macron and Mr Benalla pictured together on Bastille Day this month

Vincent Crase, a security agent for Mr Macron's La République en Marche (Republic on the Move) party, has also been charged.

Three police officers were charged and questioned on Saturday for allegedly passing surveillance footage to Mr Benalla to try to prove his innocence.

Mr Collomb told MPs: "I condemn in the strongest possible terms the actions of Mr Benalla."

He said his staff had informed Mr Macron's administration about the incident and "it was up to them to respond". "I did not pursue this matter any further."

Besides the MPs' inquiry, the police disciplinary body, IGPN, is also investigating the assault.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Interior Minister Collomb (R) said he had assumed Mr Benalla was a regular policeman

'Scandal reveals Macron's feet of clay'

The BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris writes:

There is no private militia at the Elysée Palace. People can sense that the real culprit is Alexandre Benalla himself, who for a self-declared security officer showed himself disgracefully lacking in self-control.

But it is also true that President Macron will not emerge unscathed.

His silence has come across as a sort of majestic insouciance, which irritates.

Read Hugh's analysis in full here.

Accusations of a cover-up

The French presidency has been accused of trying to cover up the assault and failing to act swiftly against Mr Benalla.

Mr Macron is already under scrutiny over what some see as an elitist presidential style: there have been controversies over his expensive new dinner service and plans for a private swimming pool.

Public outrage has been stoked by additional footage that appears to show several police officers watching the Benalla incident without intervening.

The video shows Mr Benalla dragging away a woman and then beating a man during May Day protests in Paris.

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Mr Macron has ordered a staff shake-up. Under growing pressure, he met several ministers on Sunday to discuss the row.

An official said Mr Macron had described the incident as "unacceptable" and promised there would be "no impunity". But Mr Macron has not yet spoken publicly about it.

Senior presidential official Alexis Kohler is to look into reorganising Mr Macron's private office so as to prevent a repeat of the incident, officials say.

How did we get here?

The video was posted on social media in May, but the case only became a political scandal after Le Monde newspaper revealed on 18 July that the attacker was Mr Benalla.

He was hired as an aide to the president's chief of staff after last year's election.

He was then given an apartment in an upmarket Paris district and a chauffeur-driven car, French media say. He also had the highest security clearance to parliament.

In May, a few days after the incident, he was suspended for two weeks but nothing was reported to prosecutors.

What happened on May Day?

The incident took place in a popular tourist spot in Paris' Latin Quarter, where about 100 people had gathered during demonstrations against Mr Macron's public sector labour reforms - in particular the cutting of public sector workers and the introduction of merit-based pay.

Police later said that about 1,200 masked and hooded individuals attended the 1 May demonstration by labour unions before clashes erupted with officers policing the event.

In the original video of the assault, footage shows a man wearing a police helmet, but no uniform, joining CRS riot police as they tried to control the crowds.

He grabs a woman by the neck, dragging her down the street, before both disappear off camera.

Shortly afterwards he returns to the scene, attacking a male protester who had been carried a short distance by police before being left alone on the ground.

The man in the helmet can be seen grabbing the young protester around the neck, hitting him on the head and apparently stamping on his stomach when he falls to the ground.

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