Emmanuel Macron condemns attack on relative after pensions reform protest

French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte have condemned an assault on one of their extended family members allegedly committed on Monday night by several people on the sidelines of a protest against the government’s unpopular pensions reform.

Jean-Baptiste Trogneux, the 30-year-old great-nephew of Brigitte Macron, was attacked outside his family-owned chocolate shop in the northern France town of Amiens, where the presidential couple come from. His father said the assailants insulted “the president, his wife and our family” before running off, and left him with broken ribs, bruises and several sprained fingers, according to Agence France-Presse.

“He was attacked because he is our great-nephew,” said Macron on the sidelines of a conference in Iceland on Tuesday. “As an uncle, I consider these actions absolutely unacceptable and, as president of the republic, unspeakable . . . Violence has no place in democracy.”

Brigitte Macron expressed indignation and support for Jean-Baptiste Trogneux, who “had the courage to confront the cowardice, stupidity and violence of the group” of the attackers.

Police made eight arrests on Tuesday related to the incident.

The alleged assailants had been taking part in what is known as a casserolade, a new form of protest consisting of banging on pots and pans that has emerged in the past month since Macron enacted his flagship reform to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. The large marches and strikes organised by trade unions that began in January have given way to such smaller symbolic protests, usually targeting Macron’s appearances and those of government ministers.

The attack is a sign of Macron’s deepening unpopularity, with only 26 per cent of the public saying they support him, according to pollster Ifop, 10 points lower than December 2022 just before the government proposed its pensions reform. His ratings have plunged nearly to the trough reached during the gilets jaunes protests in 2019.

Politicians from across the political spectrum expressed outrage at the incident. Several drew a parallel to a recent spate of attacks against elected officials, including the mayor of a small town in Brittany whose car and home were set ablaze by anti-immigration activists, prompting him to resign.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said she was “horrified” and recalled how her family had been targeted in the past. “This type of attack must be penalised very severely by the legal system.” Mathilde Panot, the leader of the far-left France Unbowed party in the National Assembly, said the attack was “terrible” and “unacceptable in a democracy.”

Macron and his government have been trying to turn the page on the battle over pensions reform since the law was enacted on April 14 after obtaining clearance from France’s constitutional council.

He tasked prime minister Élisabeth Borne with implementing a “100-day” government action plan aimed at helping improve public services and acting on policy priorities such as boosting employment and promoting green technologies. The president has also embarked on a charm offensive with trips all over the country.

The government has said repeatedly that it has no intention of going back on the pensions reform, which it says is needed to shore up the finances of France’s costly and complex pensions system as the population ages. In the Élysée Palace, officials are betting that public anger will eventually fade.

Trade unions have called for another nationwide protest on June 6, a date chosen to presage an effort on June 8 when a small group of centrist MPs will present a draft law to cancel the increase in the retirement age. Although the proposal is unlikely to survive to become law, losing such a vote would be a symbolic blow for the government.

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