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France's Macron takes heat after saying he wants to 'piss off' the unvaccinated

French President Emmanuel Macron during departures at the end of an EU Summit in Brussels, Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. European Union leaders met for a one-day summit Thursday focusing on Russia's military threat to neighbouring Ukraine and on ways to deal with the continuing COVID-19 crisis. (Stephanie Lecocq, Pool Photo via AP)
French President Emmanuel Macron during departures at the end of an EU Summit in Brussels, last month. Macron told a French newspaper this week that he wanted to "piss off" the unvaccinating, drawing the ire of opposition politicians.

French President Emmanuel Macron is being condemned by political opponents following an interview this week in which he employed a vulgarity to say he wants to aggravate people who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19."The unvaccinated, I really want to piss them off," Macron told Le Parisien. "And so, we're going to continue doing so until the end. That's the strategy."While not exact, the translation of the slang phrase was widely picked up by French media publishing in English.Macron also called unvaccinated people "irresponsible" and said such people "are no longer citizens."Macron's impolite and arguably impolitic comment caused the French parliament to halt debate on legislation to require a vaccine pass to do pretty much anything, such as using public transportation or visiting a cinema or café. The mandate was meant to go into effect Jan. 15."No health emergency justifies such words," said Bruno Retailleau, head of the right-wing Les Républicains in the Senate, according to France24. "Emmanuel Macron says he has learned to love the French, but it seems he especially likes to despise them. We can encourage vaccination without insulting anyone or pushing them to radicalization."The party's chairman, Christian Jacob, also expressed outrage. "I'm in favor of the vaccine pass but I cannot back a text whose objective is to 'piss off' the French."Macron's comments come just four months before national elections. He is expected to seek a second five-year term in what would likely be a close-fought reelection bid.Reuters speculates that "Macron may have calculated that enough people are now vaccinated — and upset with those who have not been vaccinated — for his comments to go down well with voters."With more than three-quarters of France vaccinated, the nation has one of the highest rates in the European Union. However, it also has had its share of protests against government efforts to mandate vaccines and social distancing measures.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.