French President Emmanuel Macron has come under attack from far-right leader Marine Le Pen over a photograph taken during his visit to the Caribbean last week.
The photo emerged on social media showing Macron with the two young men, one of whom made a rude gesture; the other has a prior conviction.
“We can’t even find the words to express our outrage,” Le Pen wrote in a tweet. “France certainly doesn’t deserve this. It is unforgivable! MLP”
The photo was taken in Quartier d’Orleans, one of the poorest districts of the French island of Saint Martin.
Macron was visiting to see for himself how reconstruction efforts had advanced a year after the island was devastated by Hurricane Irma.
Video footage of the meeting broadcast by the CNN affiliate BFMTV shows the French President giving the young man a lecture after he had told the President of his criminal past.
“Don’t make any more mistakes,” Macron says in the footage. “The robberies are over? You told me that. You won’t forget? Your mother deserves more than this.”
At an end-of-tour news conference Macron gave his version of events, saying that a woman came to see him and asked if he could say hello to her daughter who had disabilities.
“She was very far away and I called out to the two young men. One who had just got out of prison and the other one who did that gesture and I said, ‘Go and get the little girl.’ They brought the little girl to me.”
Macron, who beat Le Pen in last year’s elections, then said the reason he won the vote “is because I love every child of the Republic, regardless of the mistakes they made, because very often, because he is a child of the Republic, he did not choose the place where he was born, and he did not have the chance not to make the mistakes.”
Other opposition politicians also seized the moment to criticize Macron.
“This comedy is unbearable for all honest people, those who respect the law, those who don’t go to prison because they don’t commit crimes.” Geoffroy Didier, deputy secretary-general of France’s centre-right Les Républicains said.
The incident took place a few months after Macron chastised a French teenager for greeting him as “Manu” – a common nickname for Emmanuel – instead of “Sir” or “Mr. President.”
During that incident, Macron was attending the commemoration of a famous 1940 speech by France’s wartime leader Charles de Gaulle.
A boy called out “How’s it going, Manu?”
“Look, you can act like a clown, but today is about the Marseillaise and the Partisans’ song,” Macron said, referring to France’s national anthem and the song of French resistance to the Nazis.
“So you call me Mr. President of the Republic or sir,” Macron said.
The exchange was widely shared on social media.
Saskya Vandoorne in Paris contributed to this report.