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France

Benalla downplays 2nd video, considers appearing in parliament

media Alexandre Benalla during May Day protests in Paris on May 1, 2018. REUTERS / Philippe Wojazer

In his third interview this week, Alexandre Benalla told the Journal du Dimanche he would consider being questioned before parliament, and rejected allegations of being involved in a separate violent incident with protesters on May Day.

In an interview published Sunday, the former presidential aide downplayed his appearance in a second video allegedly showing him in a different altercation with May Day protesters.

“I was behind the police as an observer, you can see it clearly,” he told the French weekly.

“I didn’t have a police armband, helmet or radio. There was no intervention on my part whatsoever” in the second video, he said.

The new video claims to show him, a police officer and a security aide for President Macron’s Republic on the Move Party (LREM) verbally then physically confronting protesters in the Jardin des Plantes park in Paris. It was published by French daily Libération on Friday, a week and a half after the initial video of Benalla roughing up two May Day protesters while wearing a police helmet and armband in the Place Contrescarpe was published by Le Monde.

Appearing before parliament

The 26-year-old told the Journal du Dimanche that he may be open to taking questions from the parliamentary committees that have been holding hearings over the affair. Both the Senate and the National Assembly have questioned dozens of government and police figures as part of their enquiry.

“I need to rest and reflect,” he said. “But I would consider doing it. If they want an explanation, I can give them what they want.”

Benalla said he would discuss the matter with his lawyer before making a decision. He has not yet been scheduled to appear before either house of parliament.

Stepping up defence

The ex-top security aide to President Emmanuel Macron again defended himself to the weekly, describing his actions in the Place Contrescarpe as “impulsive” but “not violent”.

According to Benalla, he told superiors he was “ready to quit” after his initial two-week suspension, but they responded “it wasn’t necessary” for him to do so.

He again portrayed the mediatised political scandal surrounding him as a witch hunt.

“Those with the right credentials who keep their mouths shut are given preference in the world of power,” he told the weekly. “But I tend to open my mouth. And I’ve paid for it.

Scandal paralyses politics

“Benallagate” has swelled into a sweeping political crisis for Macron.

The opposition has filed two no confidence motions in the government, which are due to be discussed on Tuesday. While the move is mostly symbolic, as Macron’s LREM party commands a solid majority in parliament, it will allow the opposition to interrogate Prime Minister Edouard Philippe over the affair.

Macron said he accepted responsibility for the affair, but his statement did little to calm the opposition, which has accused the government of a cover-up. The Elysée knew of the event soon after but did not report it to police.

Authorities have opened a judicial investigation into Benalla and searched his office on Wednesday. He was fired last week after the first video was published, and has been charged with assault and impersonation of a police officer.

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