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Paris Riots (1968)

The events in Paris of May 1968 – Les événements – are part of the collective memory of French society.

The trouble had begun when police forcibly evicted a handful of anti-Vietnam demonstrators from the Nanterre campus in Paris on 2 May. This excited further reaction on the part of the wider campus and by 6 May the Latin Quarter had become a battleground, with almost 1000 people injured, including 300 police, in and around the Boulevard St Germain.

Cars and buses were overturned and set on fire for barricades and police repelled protesters with tear gas, fire hoses and batons.

Four days later further pitched battles between police and students occurred, this time with paving stones used as barricades. A five-week occupation of the Sorbonne followed soon after.

A week later, on 13 May, a general strike was called to support students calls for an amnesty for arresting demonstrators.

Then on 21 May, about ten million workers came out in support in a general strike, during which rubbish was left uncollected in the streets in the summer heat.

The country ground to a halt amid increasingly impassioned addresses to the nation on the part of President de Gaulle.

After plans for a mid-June referendum had to be called off due to continued industrial action, the President finally dissolved the National Assembly and called a general election.

De Gaulle had spent some time extracting strong pledges of support from the military, who by the end of the month were standing by at trouble spots waiting to ‘nip impending civil war in the bud’ as De Gaulle so delicately put it.

De Gaulle was actually returned with an increased majority, thanks to support for him in the largely conservative country areas.