France’s Macron accuses Brazil’s Bolsonaro of ‘incredibly disrespectful’ comments about his wife

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attend a meeting on the digital economy at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 28. (Jacques Witt/AFP/Getty Images)
French President Emmanuel Macron, left, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attend a meeting on the digital economy at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 28. –Jacques Witt / AFP / Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron issued a fiery response to Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro for social media comments that appeared to criticize the appearance of French first lady Brigitte Macron.

“For him to have made incredibly disrespectful comments about my spouse – what can I say to you?” Macron told a news conference on Monday when asked about Bolsonaro’s remarks. “It is sad. It is sad. But it is sad first of all for him and the Brazilian people.”

The French president’s remarks came on the final day of the annual meeting of the G-7 leaders in Biarritz, France, where the subject of raging fires in the Amazon had led to criticism of the Brazilian government and a pledge by world leaders to start $20 million fund to help protect the rainforest.

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Bolsonaro, once a fringe politician who came to power in elections last year after by appealing to nationalist sentiment, has called the international criticism of his government by European nations a reflection of a “colonialist mentality.”

But the Brazilian president pushed the political dispute into personal territory on Sunday, when he appeared to endorse a meme from a supporter that compared the appearance of the French first lady, 67, with Brazil’s 37-year-old first lady Michelle Bolsonaro.

On Saturday, a supporter of the Brazilian president posted a photograph of the two world leaders and their wives on Bolsonaro’s official Facebook page, with a comment that suggested Macron was jealous of Bolsonaro.

In response, Bolsonaro responded with laughter and wrote: “Do not embarrass the guy.”

The comment quickly went viral in both the French and Brazilian press, with widespread criticism of Bolsonaro’s remarks. Felipe Neto, a popular Brazilian comedian, called the remarks disgusting and pathetic.

French news agency Agence France-Presse reports that a spokesman for Brazil’s presidential palace refused to comment on whether Bolsonaro had written the controversial response himself.

Though the initial comment that sparked the row appeared to have been deleted, a number of similar posts remain up on Bolsonaro’s Facebook wall.

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Speaking on Monday, Macron said, “So, I myself believe Brazilian women are probably ashamed to read that from their president. I believe the Brazilian people, which is a great people, are bit ashamed of those kind of behaviors.

“I have a lot of friendship and respect for the Brazilian people, I hope they will very soon a president that acts like one.”

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The Washington Post’s Quentin Aries in Brussels contributed to this story.