Macron under fire for criticising elderly woman injured at “yellow vest” protest

France's Emmanuel Macron has been accused of lacking empathy after criticising an elderly "yellow vest" protester who was badly injured during a demonstration in Nice at the weekend.

Macron under fire for criticising elderly woman injured at
Genevieve Legay at Saturday's protest in Nice. Photo: AFP

Genevieve Legay, a 73-year-old anti-globalisation activist, suffered a fractured skull on Saturday after riot police charged anti-government demonstrators in the Riviera city of Nice.

Nice prosecutor Jean-Michel Prêtre said she appeared to have hit her head on a bollard as the police were trying to prevent protesters from entering an area declared off-limits to demonstrators.

READ ALSO Inquiry launched after 73-year-old woman seriously hurt in “yellow vest” protest in Nice

Macron, who travelled to the area on Sunday to meet visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping, told the Nice Matin newspaper that he wished Legay a “speedy recovery” but also “a form of wisdom”.

“When one is fragile and risks being shoved, one does not go to places that are declared off-limits and one does not put oneself in a situation like that,” he told the daily.

The remarks were immediately criticised by Legay's family, which has accused police of using disproportionate force to clear protesters.

“You don't criticise someone who is in a hospital bed,” said the family's lawyer Arie Alimi, calling Macron's remarks “crass and insensitive”.

The left-wing opposition also seized on the remarks as further proof of what they presented as the centrist president's lack of sensitivity.

“Mr Macron, our Genevieve of Nice does not need your lessons in wisdom. You could learn a lot from her. She stands up for the common good. And you, in the name of what are you hitting her?” the firebrand leader of the hard left France Unbowed party, Jean-Luc Melenchon, tweeted.



Communist Party spokesman Ian Brossat also expressed indignation over Macron's reaction.

“A 73-year-old lady ends up injured after a demonstration and the president of the republic is almost saying she went looking for it. How dare he?”, Brossat tweeted.

But on the right, there was some sympathy for Macron.

“There was a demonstration ban” in central Nice, noted the city's mayor Christian Estrosi, a senior member of the main opposition Republicans, adding that Legay “could easily have demonstrated…where it was permitted”.


(Emmanuel Macron was in Nice on Sunday to meet the Chinese premier Xi Jinping. Photo: AFP)

Nice local authorities have announced that there will be an inquiry into what happened on Saturday and how the elderly activist's injuries occurred.

Nice was one of a dozen cities, including Paris, to ban the “yellow vests” from demonstrating in the city centre on Saturday after major riots in Paris a week earlier.

The protesters, who have been holding weekly nationwide demonstrations over inequality since mid-November, complained that the ban in Nice was unfair, given that previous such protests in the city had passed off peacefully.

Macron has repeatedly been accused of harbouring an arrogant, dismissive attitude towards ordinary people who complain about having difficulties making ends meet.

Last year he famously told an unemployed gardener, who complained about not finding work after sending out hundreds of job applications, that he only had to “cross the road” to find work.

He also told elderly citizens protesting over pension cuts that the French should moan less, and described people who took to the streets over his reforms to the labour code as “slackers”.

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What happened to the rioters who trashed the Arc de Triomphe during yellow vest violence?

A court in France has finally handed out sentences to some of those involved in the vandalism and theft at the Arc de Triomphe in December 2018 - when 'yellow vest' violence in Paris shocked the world.

What happened to the rioters who trashed the Arc de Triomphe during yellow vest violence?
'Yellow vest' protesters clash with police by the Arc de Triomphe on December 1st 2018 in Paris. Photo: Abdulmonam EASSA / AFP

The French court on Thursday sentenced eight people to suspended jail terms and community service for taking part in one of the most violent episodes of the anti-government ‘yellow vest’ protests that rocked France two years ago.

A total of nine stood trial this week for the incident, but one of them, a former soldier, was cleared for lack of evidence, presiding judge Sonia Lumbroso said at the verdict.

The court ruled the suspects were neither the instigators nor the main culprits of the vandalism and looting around the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris, when scenes of destruction and fierce clashes with police made global headlines.

Most of them had no criminal records.

They were sentenced to 70 hours of community service for entering the monument, but those also found guilty of stealing items such as postcards, Arc de Triomphe models or miniature Eiffel Towers from the gift shop, were fined €100 for theft.

A ‘yellow vest’ protester arrives at the courthouse in Paris to attend the trial of ten people on charge of destruction and theft around the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris. Photo: Thomas COEX / AFP

One of the group, a man who was caught on camera trying to break down a door with a fire extinguisher, was handed the most severe sentence, a suspended prison term of eight months.

Dozens of cars were set on fire and businesses trashed all along the celebrated Champs-Elysées avenue on December 1st, 2018, the third Saturday of mass demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron.

READ ALSO: Macron risks losing support from left against Le Pen in French presidential election

He was accused of ignoring the plight of struggling French families and after months of protests he abandoned a planned fuel tax hike and raised spending on the lowest earners.

The protesters had already skirmished with security forces at earlier rallies, but police were unprepared for the rioting that engulfed the capital just a few weeks before Christmas.

Despite firing volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets, the officers were forced to abandon their positions around the Arc de Triomphe, which honours France’s war dead.

Protesters snuffed out the eternal flame over the tomb of an unknown World War I soldier and spray-painted the stone walls with graffiti including “the yellow vests will triumph”.

Others forced their way inside the arch, ransacking the gift shop and damaging scores of artworks, causing damage that cost €1.2 million to repair.

READ ALSO: Is France’s ‘yellow vest’ movement really on its way back?