Man grabs Sarkozy during walkabout

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A man grabbed French President Nicolas Sarkozy and yanked him off balance before being wrestled to the ground by bodyguards on Thursday, television pictures showed.

The unidentified man seized Sarkozy by the jacket as he was greeting people gathered behind a barrier in the town of Brax, southwestern France, and tugged the president forward.

Sarkozy staggered, straightened up and looked briefly ruffled but then went on glad-handing the public as the man was restrained by security staff. Pictures broadcast on television showed them wrestling the man to the ground.

Police said later that a man was in custody in nearby Agen. An official in Sarkozy's office said that the presidency "does not wish to take action" against him.

The man was named as Hermann Fuster, employed as a caretaker and receptionist at the music and dance conservatory in Agen, who had no record of offending.

Brax mayor Michel Bernines told AFP that Sarkozy was shaking hands "when sudenly a person in the second or third row ... threw himself at (the president), grabbed him by the shoulder and seemed to be going to punch him."

Bernines said the incident was "very quick, very sudden and unpredictable."

Sarkozy has been involved in several altercations in public with hecklers and boisterous crowds, but it was the first time a member of the public 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 "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.

Thursday's scuffle occurred as Sarkozy came out of a meeting in Brax with local mayors.

His approval ratings are stuck at around 30 percent, amid high unemployment, 10 months ahead of the presidential polls in which he is expected to seek re-election.

© 2011 AFP

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