Macron defends West Indian youth after rude gesture

Marine Le Pen seizes on ‘unforgiveable’ action of young man photographed with French president

 

The French far right has expressed outrage at a photograph showing President Emmanuel Macron with his arm around a shirtless West Indian youth while the young man “gives the finger” to the camera. Mr Macron and his entourage minimised what they called “a silly gesture”.

Mr Macron spent four hours with the inhabitants of Quartier d’Orléans, one of the poorest towns on the island of Saint Martin, on Saturday. Drenched in a tropical rainstorm, he invited himself into the apartment of the shirtless young man whose jeans are slung so low that most of his underwear is showing. As someone snapped a photograph of a smiling Mr Macron wedged between the young man and another youth, one of the two raised his middle finger.

In other photographs the same young man is seen smiling and laughing with the French president.

The offending photograph was seized upon by Marine Le Pen, leader of the far right Rassemblement National (RN), who tweeted it with the message, “One cannot find words to express our indignation. France certainly doesn’t deserve this. It’s unforgiveable!” Four other far right officials also expressed their disgust at the photograph.

Mr Macron reacted the following day, saying, “The reason that I fought to be elected against Marine Le Pen and the reason why I’m here today is that I love every child of the Republic, whatever silly things they do, because often they haven’t chosen where they were born... We have to stop thinking that our young are no good, because they’re a certain colour or because at some point they do silly things... Marine Le Pen is the extreme right, and the extreme right are not the people.”

A few minutes after the photograph was taken, Mr Macron scolded the other young man, who wears a white shirt and gold chain.

He had just come out of prison. What was he in for, the president asks in the video broadcast by France Télévision.  “A little armed robbery,” the youth replies. “You mustn’t do any more stupid things,” Macron lectures in a grandfatherly tone.

“The robberies are finished. You told me so. Don’t forget. Your mother deserves better than that,” the French president adds, whereupon he bear-hugs the young man’s mother.

A woman then asked Mr Macron to kiss her disabled daughter. “I didn’t have time [to go to her] In what came close to an apology for a series of incidents that earned him a reputation as haughty and arrogant, Mr Macron told Le Monde, “I’m not perfect. There are things that need correcting, that need to be explained differently, because if people don’t understand it’s our fault.”

A year ago, in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which devastated the Caribbean, Mr Macron promised €500 million for reconstruction. He was scandalised to see how little had been done, and blamed local government, saying, “There has been too much conniving and colluding, sometimes even corruption. It has to end.”