Macron fires bodyguard filmed beating protester; critics say too late

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) fired the head of his personal security detail Alexandre Benalla (R) on Friday but faced criticism for failing to act sooner, after a video was released showing the man posing as a police officer and beating a protester while off duty in May. (Reuters)
Updated 20 July 2018
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Macron fires bodyguard filmed beating protester; critics say too late

  • Alexandre Benalla, who as Macron’s top bodyguard has long been a fixture by his side, was taken into custody for police questioning over the incident, which took place when Benalla appeared at May Day protests in a riot helmet and police tags.
  • Lawmakers have launched a parliamentary inquiry into the incident itself, the lenient initial punishment and the failure of the authorities to report Benalla promptly to the judiciary.

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron fired the head of his personal security detail on Friday but faced criticism for failing to act sooner, after a video was released showing the man posing as a police officer and beating a protester while off duty in May.
Alexandre Benalla, who as Macron’s top bodyguard has long been a fixture by his side, was taken into custody for police questioning over the incident, which took place when Benalla appeared at May Day protests in a riot helmet and police tags.
He had initially been suspended for just 15 days and allowed to return to work. Just days ago he was seen in public helping to organize security for celebrations for the return of France’s World Cup champion soccer team.
Lawmakers have launched a parliamentary inquiry into the incident itself, the lenient initial punishment and the failure of the authorities to report Benalla promptly to the judiciary.
In the footage, which was released on Wednesday by Le Monde newspaper, Benalla can be seen dragging a woman away from a protest and later beating a male demonstrator. On Friday, French media released a second video which showed Benalla also manhandling the woman.
He had been given permission by the president’s office to attend the protests as an observer of the security operation, but had no authorization to take part in police work.
The president’s office brushed off accusations that it had responded only because the nearly three-month-old videos had become public. It said the decision had now been taken to fire Benalla because the bodyguard had improperly obtained a document while trying to make his case over the accusations.
“New facts that could constitute a misdemeanour by Alexandre Benalla were brought to the president’s attention,” an official at the presidential palace told Reuters. “As a result ... the presidency has decided to start Alexandre Benalla’s dismissal procedure.”
Critics of Macron called the president’s delayed response a characteristic sign that he is out of touch. It follows controversies over government spending on official crockery, a swimming pool at a presidential retreat and cutting remarks by the president about the costs of welfare.
After hours of debate in the lower house on Thursday, lawmakers agreed to launch a parliamentary inquiry.
“Why did he protect this person? Does he head up a parallel police force? Refusing to answer makes (Macron) complicit in these acts of violence,” Eric Ciotti, a senior member of the conservative Republicans party, said on Twitter.


Vote count begins for Afghan election

Afghan election observers at a polling center after ballots in the country’s legislative election were counted in Kabul on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2018
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Vote count begins for Afghan election

  • Some candidates said powerful figures were behind election rigging
  • The Electoral Complaints Commission said there was mismanagement during the election, and as of Sunday it had received some 5,000 complaints from voters and candidates

KABUL: Vote counting began on Monday for Afghanistan’s parliamentary election, which was marred by violence and irregularities, with political parties alleging “organized fraud.”

The parties said mismanagement and hundreds of Taliban attacks, which led to an extension of voting for another day at hundreds of polling stations, could raise questions over the election result, which is expected to be released in two months.

Some candidates said powerful figures were behind election rigging, and biometric devices, which were put in place to counter fraud, were smashed to facilitate the rigging. 

Abdul Bade Sayad, head of the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), was cited by local media as confirming incidents of biometric equipment being smashed, and the presence of strongmen inside some polling stations. 

But the IEC should not be held responsible for this, he said, adding: “When the government itself feels helpless before powerful figures, then senior officials of the commission should not be blamed.”

The Electoral Complaints Commission said there was mismanagement during the election, and as of Sunday it had received some 5,000 complaints from voters and candidates.

Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (IHRC) said people could not vote on Saturday in some 1,000 polling stations. 

Ahead of the election, which was delayed for more than three years, the government said it could not open more than 2,000 stations due to security threats.

Alleged irregularities included polling stations opening late, biometric devices malfunctioning, and the absence of IEC staff and voter registration lists.

Of the 9 million people who had registered to vote, nearly 4 million cast their ballot, the IEC said.

The IHRC said the IEC should not shun its responsibility regarding “shortcomings and grave violations in voting centers.”

The Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan said: “In some of the polling stations, ballots were not counted; instead the ballot boxes were transferred to a different location for counting… without informing the observers about the new location.”