Backlash for French President Macron after security chief is caught hitting student

Macron security official filmed hitting protester

Macron security official filmed hitting protester

"New facts that could constitute misdemeanour by Alexandre Benalla were brought to the president's attention", an official at the Elysee Palace told Reuters. "As a result. the presidency has made a decision to start Alexandre Benalla's dismissal procedure", the official added.

"By not immediately managing a disciplinary problem, Emmanuel Macron now faces a political crisis", wrote the rightwing Le Figaro daily - which usually makes no secret of its admiration for the president.

A source close to the inquiry said that three police officers, including two high-ranking officials, have been suspended on suspicion of providing the footage to Benalla.

Arnaud Montebourg, a former minister in ex-president Francois Hollande's government, recalled dismissing Benalla from his service after just a week because of a "serious professional failure". He said he has demanded that a police unit which investigates suspected criminal behavior by officers explain the rules for observers and verify whether they were respected.

Benalla, who is not a policeman and previously worked as a private bodyguard, had been given permission to "observe police operations" in Paris during a day off on the May 1 public holiday, Macron's office said.

The president's office brushed off accusations that it had responded only because the almost three-month-old videos had become public.

On Thursday, Macron stayed unusually silent on what French media have already christened "the Benalla Affair" when reporters questioned him during a visit to the Dordogne in central France.

A video from a May Day rally released by Le Monde newspaper showed a man wearing a police helmet and identification tag dragging a woman away and then striking a demonstrator.

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Police, who had yanked the man from the crowd before Benalla took over, didn't intervene.

The video-taker, Bouhafs, said on French radio, "The man on the ground was harmless and begged Benalla to stop".

Alexis Corbiere, an MP for the hard-left France Unbowed party, said Benalla "deserves to be punished with a prison sentence, at least a suspended sentence and with very heavy sanctions".

Despite his official change to a desk job, Benalla was seen this month on the ground with police at several high-profile events, including the return home Monday of France's soccer World Cup-winning team, an event attended by hundreds of thousands of jubilant supporters.

Once the incident came to light, President Macron's office handed Benalla a two-week suspension.

Opponents of Mr Macron have accused him of trying to cover up the attacks, and have also called for Benalla to be imprisoned.

Before he joined the presidential staff he had the role of head of security during Mr Macron's election campaign in 2017.

A judicial official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said authorities had launched a preliminary investigation that could lead to Mr Benalla being charged.

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