Man grabs Sarkozy during walkabout

PARIS, June 30, 2011 (AFP) - 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 the presidency "does not wish to take action" against him.

Asked about the possibility by the iTele channel, Sarkozy replied simply, "no, no problem, no problem."

The man was named as Hermann Fuster, 32, employed as a caretaker and receptionist at the music and dance conservatory in Agen, who had no record of offending.

The attack, though brief, was captured on film and the images were swiftly shown on French news channels.

According to a source close to the enquiry, he had wanted to challenge the president on France's intervention in Libya.

Brax mayor Michel Bernines told AFP Sarkozy was shaking hands "when suddenly 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 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.

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