Nicolas Sarkozy was forced to hide in a bar after a mob of protesters threatened to beat him up.
The 57-year-old French President, who is standing for re-election in April, was campaigning in the Basque country, in the south west.
Eggs and stones were thrown at the 5ft 5in head of state who at one stage looked as though he would disappear under a crowd of people in the city of Bayonne.
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Disorder: Sarkozy, who is standing for re-election in April, was campaigning in the Basque Country
His security staff instead ushered him into a bar, where the tee-total President had to drink coffee for more than hour while riot police dispersed the protesters.
‘The protesters said they wanted to beat him up – they said they wanted him to resign,’ said an eye-witness. He looked very concerned indeed. Sarkozy is used to angry crowds, but this one was very threatening.’
When Mr Sarkozy emerged from the Bar du Palais after around an hour he appeared shaken, describing those who had baited him as ‘hooligans’.
Many were Basque separatists who resent having to abide by laws from Paris. Mr Sarkozy denounced ‘the violence of a minority and their unacceptable behaviour’.
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He added: ‘Here, we’re in France, on the territory of the French Republic. The President of the Republic will go where he likes, and if that doesn’t please a minority of troublemakers, too bad for them.’
Opinion polls regularly show that Mr Sarkozy is by far the most unpopular head of state in the history of modern France.
He is widely expected to lose the April/May election to Socialist candidate Francois Hollande.