French newspaper Le Monde on Monday apologised for a controversial cover on its weekly magazine, which features President Emmanuel Macron in a red-and-black photomontage seen by some readers as reminiscent of Nazi propaganda.
The respected centre-left daily has come under fierce criticism online and from MPs in Macron's party over the cover of the December 29 edition of its glossy magazine M.
A stern-looking Macron serves as the backdrop for the image, which shows crowds massed at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe war memorial on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, some waving French flags.
The sombre image of the 41-year-old leader, framed by blocks of red colour, immediately drew comparisons with images of Adolf Hitler, often depicted in Nazi propaganda addressing rallies in montages featuring red backdrops.
Editor-in-chief Jerome Fenoglio said the image was inspired by Russian constructivism of the early 20th century -- which featured photomontages, diagonal lines and a limited palette of colours.
- 'Lack of judgement' -
"To use the visual vocabulary of constructivism, an aesthetic form of the early 20th century which influenced the representation of later dictatorships was not a sound choice because it created the risk of confusion," Fenoglio admitted in an editorial published Monday.
"To take inspiration from a designer who had already used this code for an illustration about Hitler only increased that risk," he added.
"We showed a lack of judgement in approving this cover, which did not reflect the substance of the story devoted to Emmanuel Macron in this issue," Fenoglio added in the editorial headlined "Our mistake and our responsibility".
Luc Bronner, the paper's editorial director, had already apologised Saturday over the image, which caused particular outrage among Macron's supporters.
Bronner tweeted a series of previous covers of M magazine which also used red and black graphics in the constructivist style as proof that the paper did not mean to draw a line between Macron's rule and the Nazi era.
Parliament speaker Richard Ferrand, a close ally of Macron's, was one of the first public figures to react to the cover.
"Am trying to understand Le Monde's graphic and iconographical references. If it's not a coincidence, what is it then? Seeking lost meaning...," he wrote in a tweet at the weekend juxtaposing Le Monde's cover with a picture of Hitler framed by the Nazi flag.
Radical leftist leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, a fierce critic of Macron, also expressed shock over the "Hitlerian depiction of Macron" in a Facebook post on Sunday.
"Ignorance and a lack of culture are probably the cause of this unbearable cover," he wrote.
Bronner's reference to Russian art failed to convince many readers.
"The latest cover of Le Monde magazine uses all the codes of Nazi propaganda. To pin it on the Constructivists to make us swallow it is really treating readers like fools," a reader, writing under the pseudonym Foxtrot, commented on Le Monde's website.
Le Monde endorsed Macron for president over his far-right rival Marine Le Pen in the run-off round of last year's election but like most French papers has been critical of his aloof leadership style and some of his economic policies.
The seven-page story in its magazine recounts how the Champs-Elysees has played a prominent role in Macron's presidency.
"From his inauguration to the yellow vests, the Champs-Elysees, theatre of Macron's rule," reads the sub-heading.