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French President Emmanuel Macron has been criticised over a controversial comment he made about union activists.

During a visit to the town of Egletons, he directed his anger at trade unionists who clashed with police during a demonstration against redundancies at the region’s GM&S car parts plant.

Speaking at a factory, the pro-business president said: “Some, instead of stirring up s***, would be better off looking for work.”

The factory, 85 miles from the car plant, has been struggling to find workers.

He later said he was “standing by the substance” of his remarks which were made in conversation with a regional official.

The comments follow several others which his critics say expose him as being dismissive of ordinary people.

The centrist president and En Marche leader, 39, has seen his popularity plunge since his election in May.

In September, days before a union-led protest against his flagship labour reforms, Mr Macron said he would not back down “to slackers, cynics and extremists”.

The remark became a rallying cry for protesters who coined slogans such as “Slackers of the world, unite!”.

The Socialist Party in a tweet said: “Macron does it again,” and called on the president to “watch his language and respect the French people”.

Tens of thousands of people take to the streets of Paris to demonstrate against Emmanuel Macron's labour reforms

Image: Tens of thousands demonstrate in Paris against the president’s labour reforms

Adrien Quatennens, from the hard-left Unbowed Party, said Mr Macron “doesn’t know what it means to look for work”.

But government spokesman Christophe Castaner defended Mr Macron and said presidents should be able “to use the words we all use”.

Mr Macron has sought to restore lost prestige to the presidency, hosting events in grandiose settings such as the former royal palace in Versailles and likening his role to that of Jupiter, king of the Roman gods.

The president, a former investment banker, is trying to pass an ambitious agenda which includes labour reforms pushed through by decree.

Critics have seized on his use of executive orders as an example of an autocratic leadership style.

At the same time, Mr Macron is planning major tax cuts for the wealthy which has fuelled accusations that he is a “president of the rich”.

France’s youngest president believed the tax cuts are essential to boosting investment and stemming the exodus of millionaires such as actor Gerard Depardieu and rocker Johnny Hallyday.

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