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'Stupid mistake'...'a storm in a teacup': Macron and Benalla play down scandal

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'Stupid mistake'...'a storm in a teacup': Macron and Benalla play down scandal
AFP
12:03 CEST+02:00
French president Emmanuel Macron and his ex-security chief Alexandre Benalla spoke out on Thursday about the ongoing scandal surrounding the presidency. Both tried to play down its importance.

French President Emmanuel Macron's former top security aide admitted he "made a mistake" in attending a demonstration where he was filmed roughing up May Day protesters, in an interview published Thursday.

But Alexandre Benalla also denounced what he said was a "desire to get at the president" over the scandal.

"I feel like I have done something really stupid. And have made a mistake... I should never have gone to that demonstration as an observer, then 
I should have held back" he told the newspaper Le Monde.

Le Monde had last week published smartphone videos of Benalla hitting one protester and violently wrestling another -- while wearing a police helmet and armband -- during the May 1 demonstration in Paris.

Revelations that top officials in Macron's office knew about the incident have sparked furious opposition claims of a cover-up in the worst scandal 
since the 40-year-old office took office last year.

Two parliamentary committees 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 suspicion may "appear insufficient" but at the time it seemed "proportionate".

Benalla was charged Sunday with assault and impersonating a police officer.

For his part Macron on Thursday continued to play down the significance of the scandal calling it "a storm in a tea cup" (tempete dans un verre d'eau).

"I said what I said to say, which was that I think it's a storm in a tea cup" the president told  AFP on a visit to the village of Campan in southwest France. 

Earlier this week Macron told MPs from his Republic on the Move (LREM) party "What happened on May 1 is terrible, serious, and for me it was a disappointment and a betrayal."

"The only person responsible for this affair is me," he said, in an angry intervention that appeared to take aim at parliament's grilling of his top aides as well as press coverage of the affair.

"If they're looking for someone to hold responsible, he's right in front of you. They can come and get me." 

Macron resumed his offensive against the media Wednesday evening during a visit to Bagneres-de-Bigorre in the Pyrenees.

"You have in recent days said a lot of nonsense about salaries, privileges," in the Benalla case, he told journalists.

"It was all fake," Macron said.

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