French president tells 73-year-old woman, whose skull was fractured, she is ‘fragile’
Emmanuel Macron, has been accused of patronising a 73-year-old giletsjaunes (yellow vests) protester who sustained a fractured skull after riot police charged demonstrators in an off-limits area of Nice.
Geneviève Legay, was taken to hospital with serious head injuries on Saturday. Jean-Michel Prêtre, the Nice public prosecutor, said an investigation had been opened but it appeared Legay had hit her head on a concrete bollard as police tried to clear protesters.
Macron, who was in Nice on Monday along with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, who is visiting France, told the Nice-Matin newspaper he wished Legay a “speedy recovery”, but simultaneously criticised her.
“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 that kind of situation,” he said.
Macron added: “This lady was not in contact with the forces of law and order. She put herself in a situation where she went, quite deliberately, to an area that was off-limits and was caught up in a movement of panic. I regret this deeply, but we must respect public order everywhere.”
He concluded: “I wish her a speedy recovery … and perhaps a kind of wisdom.”
The remarks brought a swift riposte from the Legay family lawyer, Arié Alimi, who said: “I don’t find it very reasonable to criticise a person who is in a hospital bed, in a serious condition, or to consider that the elderly cannot express their convictions on the streets.”
The Legay family plans to file an official complaint against police for “wilful violence in a group with arms by those in a position of public authority over vulnerable persons”.
Alimi said the complaint aimed to establish whether his client was in the off-limits zone when “she was assaulted” and to “establish if the [police] charge was necessary and proportionate”.
Legay was injured while waving a rainbow flag at a gilets jaunes protest on Saturday, the 19th consecutive Saturday of nationwide demonstrations by the movement since last November.
The gilets jaunes initially took to the streets to protest against a hike in fuel tax, but their grievances quickly morphed into more general dissatisfaction with the French president and his centrist government. Several weekends have seen violent clashes between riot police and protestors.
For weeks, Macron has been touring French town halls as part of his “grand national debate” to listen to public grievances and take the sting out of the gilets jaunes movement and its accusations that he is detached, out of touch and lofty.
His comments about Legay brought an instant response from critics on Monday.
The hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, of the France, Insoumise (France Unbowed) party, tweeted: “Mr Macron, our Geneviève of Nice doesn’t need your lessons in wisdom. You should have a lot to learn from her.”
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, of the rightwing France Debout (Stand up France) party, attacked Macron’s “arrogance”, which he said was “profoundly inhumane”.
“Real wisdom, Mr Macron, is to listen to our elders and those who are weak so that they don’t need to be taking to the streets to express their distress,” Dupont-Aignan said.
On Sunday, Macron met Xi on the Côte d’Azur and the two had a private dinner at Beaulieu-sur-Mer. The Chinese leader also fitted in a brief visit to Monaco and on Monday travelled to Paris for the start of a state visit.
The French and Chinese leaders laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe, on the Champs Élysées, the scene of looting and destruction by gilets jaunes protesters a week ago.
Afterwards, they headed to the Élysée Palacefor a ceremony. On Monday evening, Macron and his wife Brigitte hosted a state dinner with guests including the French actor Alain Delon and the Chinese painter Yan Pei-Ming.
Macron is hoping to sign about 30 deals with Xi, approximately half of them business contracts worth several billion euros, as well as bilateral agreements.
However, he is treading a fine line between encouraging lucrative Chinese contracts and seeking to persuade Xi to open China’s market to French exports in transport, renewable energy and city infrastructure sectors, and expressing concern over human rights and unfair competition from Chinese firms.
France also seeks Chinese support on the Paris climate agreement in the face of opposition by Donald Trump.
On Tuesday, Xi will meet the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, in Paris.