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30 May 2008

On this day in history: Conservative reaction in France, 1968

On 30th May 1968, tens of thousands of French people marched up the Champs-Elysées, not in the cause of revolution or even of reform, but rather in support of President De Gaulle and his embattled administration.

At 4:30pm that same day, De Gaulle made a televised speech to assert his authority over the French nation. He had decided to dissolve the National Assembly, and call elections within forty days, but he would remain President for the rest of his mandated term. He also hinted that he would use any means at his disposal to preserve the Fifth Republic against the 'totalitarian communism' threatened by the students and striking workers.

The day before De Gaulle had a meeting with leading army generals in Baden-Baden to confirm that he had their support. They agreed to remain loyal to the President in return for the release of Raoul Salan. Salan was a French army officer, ringleader of the Algiers Putsch and chief of the Organisation de l'armée secrète (OAS), the far-right nationalist organisation responsible for many atrocities during Algeria's independence. Initially sentenced to death for treason, on his arrest in 1963 the authorities commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. He was released from prison a few weeks later along with other OAS leaders.

The International Herald Tribune website now includes an article by Peter Steinfels entitiled "Paris, May 1968: The revolution that never was." The site also includes a timeline, links to pdf files of Herald Tribune front-pages from the time, as well as other material.