French President Emmanuel Macron has been accused of using divisive, vulgar language after he used a slang term to say he wanted to make life difficult for unvaccinated people.
“I really want to piss them off, and we’ll carry on doing this – to the end,” he told Le Parisien newspaper.
Three months ahead of a presidential election, opponents of Mr Macron said his words were unworthy of a president.
MPs halted debate on a law barring the unvaccinated from much of public life.
The session in the National Assembly was brought to a standstill for a second night running on Tuesday as opposition delegates complained about the president’s language, with one leading figure describing it as “unworthy, irresponsible and premeditated”.
The legislation is expected to be approved in a vote this week, but it has angered vaccine opponents and several French MPs have said they have received death threats over the issue.
Mandatory vaccinations are being introduced in several European countries, with Austria leading the way for over-14s from next month and Germany planning a similar move for adults. Italy’s government meanwhile said on Wednesday it would make vaccination against Covid-19 compulsory from 15 February for everyone over the age of 50.
‘A president shouldn’t say that’
In his interview with Le Parisien on Tuesday, Mr Macron used the vulgar term emmerder to say how he wanted to stir up the unvaccinated. He would not “vaccinate by force” the remaining five million who had not had a dose, but hoped to encourage people to get the vaccines by “limiting as much as possible their access to activities in social life”.
“I won’t send [unvaccinated people] to prison,” he said. “So we need to tell them, from 15 January, you will no longer be able to go to the restaurant. You will no longer be able to go for a coffee, you will no longer be able to go to the theatre. You will no longer be able to go to the cinema.”
The debate in parliament has drawn protests from opponents of the Covid pass
Ahead of a presidential election campaign in which Mr Macron is yet to announce his intention to run, his remarks prompted a strong reaction from opposition figures.
Right-wing Republicans candidate Valérie Pécresse said she was outraged that the president had accused unvaccinated people of not being citizens. “You have to accept them as they are – lead them, bring them together and not insult them,” she told CNews.
Party colleague Bruno Retailleau said pointedly: “Emmanuel Macron says he has learned to love the French, but it seems he especially likes to despise them.”
Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen tweeted: “A president shouldn’t say that… Emmanuel Macron is unworthy of his office.”
Meanwhile, leftist politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon described the remarks as an astonishing confession: “It’s clear, the vaccination pass is a collective punishment against individual freedom.”