French President Emmanuel Macron has denounced violence both by and against police, and refuted claims that freedoms are being eroded under his rule as "a big lie", after public pressure forced his government to withdraw parts of a controversial security bill that threatened press freedom and the right to publish images of police on duty.
For over two hours Macron was questioned by journalists from the popular online video platform Brut on its Youtube and Facebook Live channels. Some 30,000 people followed the stream, with many of their comments in the chat section read out to the president.
The topics covered a wide range of topics, from last Saturday's violence at Paris's Place de la République during protests against police brutality and Article 24 of the proposed global security bill, to freedom of expression and the “roots of terrorism”. The Covid-19 crisis and vaccines was also addressed, along with unequal treatment and violence against women and the situation of the Uyghurs in China
'Not limiting freedom'
Striking criticism of Macron appeared in international media after several events, including his announcement of a crackdown on radical Islam and his government trying to push through the unpopular security bill that would restrict the publication of images of police on duty.
"I cannot let it be said that we are limiting freedoms in France," Macron told Brut, complaining that France had been "caricatured" in the debate over the security legislation.
"It's a big lie. We are not Hungary or Turkey," he added, hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had called Macron "trouble" and urged the French to "get rid" of him as soon as possible.
Some comments in English-language media have accused Macron of targeting all Muslims following a spate of attacks in recent months blamed on radical Islamists.
But Macron insisted he was not singling out Muslims, simply defending the France's secular values.
"France has no problem with Islam...we are a country that has always had a dialogue... But we founded our Republic on the separation of religion from politics."
Refusing to be drawn into Erdogan's latest personal attack on him, Macron said: "I believe in respect...I think insults between political leaders is not the way to do things."
Outrage over Article 24 of the proposed security law soared to new levels after the police beating of black music producer Michel Zecler two weeks ago. Four police officers were charged over the assault.
Macron acknowledged "there are police who are violent" and insisted that "they need to be punished".
The president acknowledged: "When you are not white, you are more likely to get checked by the police. You are identified as a problem factor, and that cannot be justified."
But he also lashed out at the violence against police at last weekend's rally in Paris, which he blamed on troublemakers.
Macron's interview with Brut, a video-based news portal aimed at young people, is seen as an attempt by the president to win credibility with the youth.
Lawmakers from Macron's ruling LREM party said on Monday proposed a "complete rewrite" of part of the draft security law.