French President Emmanuel Macron has caused a stir after appearing in a photo alongside a man who is making an obscene gesture with his middle finger.
The image, captured during Macron’s visit to the French Caribbean island of Saint-Martin a year after Hurricane Irma hit, was posted on social media.
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen described the post as “unforgivable”.
The President defended the photo, saying: “I love all of the [French] republic’s children, whatever their troubles”.
Macron said that the image shared over the weekend had been taken out of context and that one of the young men featured had recently been released from prison.
The 40-year-old French leader said he then urged the former convict pictured to “stop messing around” and to avoid making “more mistakes” in life.
“Your mother deserves better than that”, he said.
Defending the men, Macron said they had carried a “physically handicapped” girl to meet him after the picture was taken, Agence France-Presse reports.
They were “capable of doing that because I showed confidence in them, because I respected them. That’s our republic,” he said.
However, Le Pen said of the incident that there were no words to “express our indignation”, adding: “France does not deserve this.”
Valerie Boyer, a member of the centre-right party, The Republicans, tweeted: “Behave yourself… Mr President”.
It comes during a four-day visit by the French president to Saint-Martin, where he has met families and locals devastated by last year’s hurricane.
On Sunday he said that he was “angry” at the relief and reconstruction efforts in the wake of the storm and blamed “companies that decided to go at their own pace”, pointing out that many residents and businesses had “not been able to repair the roofs”.