Sarkozy attacker walks free with suspended jail term

1st July 2011, Comments 0 comments

A court Friday handed a six-month suspended jail term to a man who assaulted French President Nicolas Sarkozy, letting him walk free.

The court in Agen, southwestern France, sentenced Hermann Fuster, 32, over Thursday's surprise breach of presidential security, which struck as Sarkozy greeted the public in nearby Brax. Sarkozy was not harmed.

The court heard that Fuster, a caretaker and receptionist at a local conservatory, had texted his ex-wife just before the incident telling her he wanted to give Sarkozy a "smack in the mouth."

In fact he grabbed the president by the jacket and yanked him off balance before Sarkozy's security detail intervened and pinned Fuster to the ground.

Sarkozy staggered, straightened up and looked briefly ruffled but then went on glad-handing the public. The brief rumpus was caught on camera and aired by news channels.

Fuster pleaded he had actually meant he just wanted to "talk smack" to the president and insisted the text messages were a joke.

Fuster's lawyer Laurent Bruneau said his client was part of the "indignants", a social protest movement, and his move to grab the president was a message that he had "had enough."

On top of the suspended sentence, the court also ordered Fuster to carry out community service in a hospital and to undergo a two-day course on how to be a good citizen.

Fuster appeared in the dock Friday dressed in black with Gothic skull designs on his T-shirt and a long black ponytail. After the sentencing he left the court without commenting and got into a car with his mother.

He was convicted of "violence against a person holding public authority."

Sarkozy himself did not press charges.

Sarkozy has been involved in several altercations in public with hecklers and boisterous crowds, but it was the first time an ill-wisher had breached his security bubble to lay hands on him.

The most notorious incident was in 2008 at the Paris agricultural show where Sarkozy thundered an expression politely translatable as "Get lost, you damned idiot!" at a man who insulted him.

The quote has become a popular catchphrase for summing up Sarkozy's abrupt style.

The president's approval ratings are stuck at record lows amid high unemployment, 10 months ahead of presidential polls in which he is expected to seek re-election.

In 2002 a gunman shot at, and missed, Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac before being wrestled to the ground and arrested. Chirac's assailant, linked to far-right groups, was jailed for 10 years.

© 2011 AFP

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