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French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during a visit to The School of Application to the Trades of Public Works (EATP), which is devoted to apprenticeship and vocational training in Egletons, France, October 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ludovic Marin/Pool(reuters_tickers)
By Luke Baker
PARIS (Reuters) - Emmanuel Macron, who at the age of 39 has brought youth and vigour to the French presidency, is also developing a reputation for stinging and sometimes off-message language.
During a visit to a struggling company in the south-west of France on Wednesday, Macron was caught on video discussing clashes outside between the police and workers protesting his economic policies.
"Instead of kicking up a bloody mess, some of them would be better off going to see if they can get a job over there," he said, referring to a nearby aluminium factory battling to find workers. "Some of them have got the qualifications to do it," he said, adding: "It's not that far for them to go."
The comments lit up TV channels and Twitter, where they were relished by the far-left and far-right, who are keen to cast Macron, a former investment banker, as out of touch with the common man and a president for the rich.
Florian Philippot, until recently the number two in the far-right National Front party, described Macron as having "contempt" for France's lower-income workers.
A similar accusation was levelled by Clementine Autain, a lawmaker from the far-left France Unbowed party.
"It shows a great class contempt," she said. "He can't stop coming out with unfair comments targeting the masses."
Macron's new spokesman, former journalist Bruno Roger-Petit, was quick to post the full video of Macron's exchange on Twitter, saying some outlets and opponents were circulating extracts that made the president sound worse than was the case.
"Truncated and taken out of context," he said of snippets on social media. "Emmanuel Macron was underlining that the search for solutions on jobs is everyone's responsibility."
It is not the first time Macron has sparked controversy with his language and then shown little sign of contrition.
While his often erudite speeches are laced with literary references that show off his elite education, he has a tendency to use dismissive words in off-the-cuff comments that critics say make him sound arrogant.
Last month, as he was finalising changes to France's labour rules to make hiring and firing easier, he said he would not bow to "slackers" who resist reform.
In July, visiting a high-tech start-up centre in Paris, he talked about "those who succeed and those who are nothing".
And in 2016, when confronted by angry unionists while he was economy minister, Macron was recorded saying: "You don't scare me with your t-shirt. The best way of paying for a suit is to work."
Spikey language has dogged French presidents in the past.
Nicolas Sarkozy caused uproar while interior minister in 2005 when he branded youths behind the worst urban violence in France in decades as "scum", a comment that haunted him as president.
And Francois Hollande was accused by his former partner of referring to the poor as "toothless", undermining his efforts to portray himself as a friend of the needy.
(Additional reporting by Myriam Rivet; Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Richard Lough and Toby Chopra)