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Macron’s former bodyguard delivers new blow

Macron and his then senior security officer Alexandre Benalla arrive at an elementary school to attend a one-hour interview with French news channel TF1, in Berd'huis, France, April 12, 2018. Picture taken April 12, 2018.
Macron and his then senior security officer Alexandre Benalla arrive at an elementary school to attend a one-hour interview with French news channel TF1, in Berd'huis, France, April 12, 2018. Picture taken April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/

Emmanuel Macron’s former bodyguard, Alexandre Benalla, has claimed he remained in contact with the French president long after a scandal that forced him from his job. The claim comes as Macron prepares a public address in the face of plummeting popularity and persisting Yellow Vest protests.

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In an interview conducted by investigative website Mediapart on Sunday and published Monday, Alexandre Benalla claims Macron remained in regular contact with him long after he was fired, soliciting advice on a number of issues including the civil unrest of the Yellow Vest protests.

Benalla, 27, served as bodyguard and then advisor to Macron until July, when he was fired after a video emerged showing him assaulting two people on the margins of May Day demonstrations while illegally wearing police apparel.

Macron’s office has insisted it has cut ties with Benalla, most recently affirming it has “no further contact” with the former aide in a 24 December statement to French newspaper Le Monde.

But Benalla told Mediapart that Macron regularly consulted him via the mobile phone application Telegram, only cutting off contact last week after it emerged he had retained diplomatic passports even after losing his job.

The former aide also claimed that he was in regular contact with the presidential office and that Macron was surrounded by “technocrats” who “belong to a family worse than the mafia”.

The Elysée Palace told AFP Agency on Monday that Benalla’s words amounted to “a bunch of untruths and approximations” and that the former bodyguard was lashing out in revenge over his dismissal.

But Benalla appears to have anticipated such a response to his claim of his ongoing contact with Macron.

“It will be very difficult to deny it because all these exchanges are on my mobile phone,” Benalla told Mediapart.

Low-profile Macron to record second televised address

Benalla’s claims come at a time that Macron is struggling to improve the image he casts as France’s president.

Also Monday, Macron will record a New Year’s Eve address to be aired on national television at 8pm local time, a tradition of the French Fifth Republic in which heads of state to communicate wishes and priorities for the year to come.

But it will be the second national address in less than a month from Macron, who faces his lowest approval ratings since his election in May 2017.

The president responded to weeks of civil unrest around the country on 10 December, announcing 10 billion euros’ worth of measures to boost purchasing power, which drew a record-breaking 23 million spectators.

Protests have continued despite the announcements and although the number of participants has dwindled, the mere fact that they have persisted over the holidays raises the possibility they could flare up again in 2019.

The president himself has kept an uncharacteristically low profile since his 10 December intervention, limiting public appearances and working mostly within the walls of the Elysée Palace in Paris.

He renounced a ski holiday in the Pyrénées Mountains that he has taken every year since he was a child. Instead, Macron and his wife Brigitte stayed for four days in the Brégançon fort, an official presidential retreat on an islet in the Mediterranean.

But the Yellow Vests managed to track him down there, and last Thursday riot police blocked some 40 protesters from approaching the medieval fortress.

As Macron speaks, Yellow Vests promise to be heard

Macron is expected to take a cautious approach when it comes to detailing his administration’s priorities in his New Year’s Eve address.

Many of the policies Macron’s administration is pursuing, including pension reforms and cuts to public services, are as much cornerstones of the president’s pledges to reform the country as they are potentially explosive issues for many segments of the French population.

Yellow Vests have made it clear they intend to remain a thorn in Macron’s side, calling on Facebook for a “festive and non-violent” gathering on Paris’s Champs-Elysées Avenue, the site of seven consecutive Saturdays of rallies that have occasionally seen the outbreak of riots.

Aside from more concrete issues of cost of living and purchasing power, one of the main issues driving protests has been the perception that Macron is an arrogant leader acting in the interest of a wealthy elite and out of touch with ordinary people.

If there ends up being more to Benalla’s claims than mere words, it could further complicate Macron’s efforts to reassure French people that he really is acting in their interest.

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