PARIS (AP) – French President Emmanuel Macron has sparked outcry in parliament and protests from his electoral rivals by using vulgarity to describe his strategy to pressure vaccine denials to obtain coronavirus vaccines.

Macron used the French word “emmerder”, rooted in the French word for “merde” and meaning to annoy or disturb, in an interview published by French newspaper Le Parisien on Tuesday evening. The president made the explosive remark as lawmakers fiercely debate new measures that would allow only vaccinated people to enjoy leisure activities such as dining out.

“The unvaccinated, I really want to annoy them. And so we will continue to do it, until the end. This is the strategy, “Le Parisien said, citing the French leader in an interview at the presidential Elysee Palace with a panel of his readers.

His use of earthy language more commonly heard at the counters of French cafes further complicated the already difficult passage through parliament of the new vaccine pass planned by the government. Lawmakers debated early Wednesday morning before their discussions were suspended again, disrupted by the fury over Macron’s comments.

The vaccine pass will exclude unvaccinated people from places such as restaurants, cinemas, theaters, museums and sports arenas. The pass will also be required on interregional trains and buses, as well as on domestic flights.

Opposition lawmakers protested vehemently in the National Assembly Hall as Macron’s Health Minister Olivier Veran sought to defend the president’s choice of words.

Veran said Macron’s interview demonstrated his “intention, above all, to protect the people.”

Critics have accused Macron of behavior unbecoming of a president and of targeting the unvaccinated to gain the support of the 90% of French adults who are fully vaccinated. Opposition MP Sébastien Jumel said Macron “had deliberately chosen to add hysteria to the debate”.

Macron risks his re-election in April. He has yet to declare his candidacy, but his intentions to do so are becoming increasingly clear. In the interview with the Parisian, he said: “There is no false suspense. I want.”

But Macron’s frustration with complaints from the unvaccinated and critics over his salty language dominated French news reports on Wednesday. Macron particularly harshly criticized anti-vaccination people, as opposed to simply unvaccinated people, saying: “An irresponsible person is no longer a citizen.

Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who opposes the vaccine pass proposal, said the president wanted “to wage war against part of the French”.

Another far-right candidate, Eric Zemmour, accused Macron of “cruelty”. On the far left, presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon asked: “Does the president control what he says?”

Macron supporters have suggested the president was simply speaking out loud what some vaccinated people already think about the unvaccinated, in a country with bitter divisions on the issue.

France reported a record 271,686 cases of the virus per day on Tuesday as omicron infections escalate across the country, weighing on hospital staff and threatening to disrupt transport, schools and other services.

Macron’s government is working to avoid another economically damaging lockdown that could hurt his re-election prospects. Instead, ministers are trying to rush the vaccine pass bill through parliament in the hopes that it will be enough to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed.

More than 20,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in France, a number that has been rising steadily for weeks but not as sharply as the country’s infection rates.

COVID-19 patients occupy more than 72% of intensive care unit beds in France, and its once famous healthcare system is once again showing signs of strain. Most patients infected with the virus in intensive care are not vaccinated against the coronavirus, although 77% of the French population have received at least two doses.

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Leicester reported from Pecq, France.

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