Macron's ex-bodyguard goes on trial over May Day assaults

Alexandre Benalla, a former security advisor of French President Emmanuel Macron, arrives with his lawyer Jacqueline Laffont on the first day of his trial for violence committed against demonstrators at a May Day protest in 2018, at the courthouse in Paris, France, September 13, 2021. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

PARIS (Reuters) - A former security advisor of French President Emmanuel Macron arrived at a Paris court on Monday to go on trial accused of roughing up May Day protesters in 2018, in what triggered the first major political crisis of Macron's mandate.

Macron and his Elysee palace team were sharply criticised at the time for not sacking Alexandre Benalla immediately. He was fired when a video of the incident emerged six weeks later.

The trial, which takes place just months before the 2022 presidential election, will bring the spotlight back on a case that was for months a major headache for Macron, accused of being too slow to deal with a member of his inner circle.

What became widely known as "the Benalla affair" raised questions about his highly centralised governing style and the wide powers conferred on the president under France's Fifth Republic. Macron rejected accusations, saying the Elysee had not sought to protect Benalla.

The video showed Benalla manhandling protesters during a police-led crowd control operation. While allowed in as an observer, he ended up taking part in the operation, wearing police-marked clothing. He has admitted to "making a mistake", but said he just wanted to help police and did nothing illegal.

Benalla, 30, is also on trial over allegations that he illegally kept and used diplomatic passports. He told a Senate committee that he thought he was allowed to use them, but had made a mistake.

Benalla told a senate inquiry in September 2018 that much of his role had involved liaising between Macron's political office and the official security body charged with protecting the president, known as GSPR and made up of top-level gendarmes and senior police officers.

"I am not a thug," he said.

(writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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