PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron faced down a grilling over unpopular economic reforms by two veteran journalists on Sunday, in a heated, 2-1/2-hour exchange that also touched on issues ranging from Syria to railway union strikes.
In his second television interview in less than a week, part of a media offensive designed to win over a sceptical public as he pushes ahead with economic reforms, neither Macron nor the interviewers pulled any punches.
In a break with the often deferential tradition of French presidential interviews, Macron took questions from two famously combative journalists to mark his first year in office.
It coincides with a wave of railway strikes designed to challenge his reforms and his broader economic programme.
Hostilities started when Macron accused one of the reporters of asking a "biased" question over a raft of protests in the country, to which the piqued interviewer responded: "You are not our professor and we are not your pupils."
In a sometimes confusing exchange where no new policy announcement was made, Macron was repeatedly attacked over his pro-business economic policy which has earned him the nickname "president of the rich" among opponents.
"I make absolutely no apology over the tax measures concerning the wealth tax, when money is reinvested in the economy," Macron told the journalists, Edwy Plenel of investigative website Mediapart and Jean-Jacques Bourdin of RMC radio.
On international issues, Macron defended his decision to launch air strikes against chemical weapons sites in Syria with the United States and Britain.
But a series of questions about tax evasion became another opportunity for quick-fire retorts.
"Emmanuel Macron, you're interrupting me because my question bothers you," one journalist quipped. "Stop talking nonsense!" or "you are not judges!" Macron retorted at times.
At one point Macron, who has been criticised by opposition politicians for having a vertical, monarchical way of governing, was asked whether he didn't have a "puerile sense of omnipotence".
"Yes I believe in authority, but authority doesn't mean being almighty," Macron replied.
(Reporting by Michel Rose and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Sandra Maler)