French President Nicolas Sarkozy was physically assaulted on Thursday, while he was at a rally in the southwestern town of Brax. The incident, caught on video and broadcast on several news programs in France, was abrupt and swift, and raised fears about the president's safety as he ramps up public appearances before elections next year.
As Sarkozy shook hands with people across a metal barricade, a man in the crowd grabbed the president's shoulder, violently yanking his suit collar, and would have pulled him to the ground had it not been for the barricade that caught him in his fall, according to the New York Times.
The man's ability to get so close to the French head of state and physically attack him before being tackled by security guards seconds later and detained could heighten worries about presidential security as the campaigning for the 2012 presidential election gets under way in France.
Local police officials couldn't be reached for comment, but French news reports identified the attacker as Hermann Fuster, 32, from Agen, a neighboring town. The man, who works at a local music school, was arrested and being questioned in Agen. One police official said he wanted to confront the president over France’s war effort in Libya, according to the New York Times, which cited the website of the French weekly L'Express.
The attack was the last thing the extremely unpopular Sarkozy needed as he tries to woo voters in the runup to the presidential elections. He has been attending a string of events around the country to improve his image, according to the Telegraph. But Sarkozy carries with him a reputation for volatility and a quick temper.
Earlier this year it was reported that there were plans to use a £10,000 bulletproof umbrella to shield Sarkozy from assassination attempts after polls indicated that he was the most unpopular head of state in recent French history, according to the Independent.
The president was criticized in the early years of his presidency for verbal altercations with members of the public, according to the Wall Street Journal. In one incident, he was captured on camera cursing at a man who wouldn't shake his hand at an agriculture fair; in another faceoff, he lashed out at fishermen who were heckling him.
In perhaps the best-known incident, which occurred when he was interior minister in 2005, he became the flashpoint for rioting youths in a three-week uprising in lower-income, ethnically diverse suburbs after he famously referred to them as “scum,” the New York Times reported. He avoided the suburbs for years after the riots and has controlled his interaction with immigrant communities.
This time, Sarkozy shrugged the incident off, and won't be pressing charges, the New York Times said, citing L'Express.