may 1968 riots

May 68 Protests and Riots



blitz violence paralyzed (2)
length breadth simmering (2)
unrest looming boil over (2)
involve lurk (2) all walks of life
spill (2) casualty beneath the surface (2)
chaos shake up bring to his knees (2)
rock (3) hunt (2) take stock of
dissent dwindle motion of censure
vote motion (2) convincingly
dispute majority gaining ground (2)
urgent stage (2) spectator (2)
conflict quarter (2) battleground
appeal censure desperately
no use stem (2) acknowledge
rapidly in line (2) demonstrate
mob incensed sane/sanity
riot bloodshed responsibility
expel left-wing provincial (2)
escort discipline trade union
unrest expulsion address (3)
turmoil recognize channel (2)
set up bridle (2) law and order
fail order (3) stirring (2)
injured reserves disenchanted
stun (2) strike (2) militant (2)
retire indication referendum
appall tension (2) negotiation
restore emphasize






France, May 1968. A nation of strikes, of violence. A country paralyzed across its length and breadth.

The simmering unrest among its student population rapidly boiled and boiled over. Citizens from every walk of life, from every class became involved. Unrest, which had lurked beneath the surface spilled into the open.

France had been brought to its knees by a disenchanted majority who wanted more money, better working conditions, and a shake-up in the social system.

Chaos ruled the streets.

While the banks took stock of their reserves and eventually closed, housewives hunted for food as supplies dwindled.

Earlier at the Assembly, the French parliament, leading politicians from all parties arrived for a motion of censure against the government.

Monsieur Pompidou, the prime minister, spoke convincingly against the motion.

He won by a majority of eleven votes.

But the dispute was gaining ground on the streets. Even before it had reached this stage, the government had set up urgent talks to control the conflict.

It was too late.

That night the Latin Quarter of Paris became a battleground.

The prime minister and leading government members desperately tried to stem the flood of dissent, but it was no use.

Despite appeals for discipline and calm from less militant demonstrating leaders, big trouble was looming.

The mob was incensed by the sight of riot police. Sanity and social responsibility were forgotten.

During this night of bloodshed and terror, there were similar scenes in many centers of provincial France.

Workers were already talking of victory, but still General de Gaulle remained silent.

On the French-German border, more than five-hundred students from both countries waited for left-wing student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Red Danny as he is know, had been expelled from France.

He refused to acknowledge his expulsion and told his supporters, “My expulsion will not solve the problems of France. I will come back.”

Red Danny was eventually escorted out of France.

On the day that General de Gaulle had at last agreed to address the nation, members of trade unions marched peacefully and with order through the streets of the capital.

De Gaulle, president of the French Republic, solved his country’s turmoil. He said he recognized the necessity for social changes and promised there would be reform.

But he emphasized, there must be law and order. The country must come first. In his own words, he said the strikes must end. Negotiations must begin quickly to get France moving once more.

His speech ended, “Long live France.”

It was a typically stirring speech, but it failed: the unrest and violence spread rapidly — in Paris, it was a night of wild disorder.

The Latin Quarter was rocked with violence such as it had never known before.

During this terrible night that Paris will never forget, there were four-hundred (400) casualties among the demonstrators. A hundred and fifty (150) police were injured.

In the early hours of the morning, a stunned France was counting its wounds. Paris looked like a blitzed city.
General de Gaulle’s personal strength had failed to bring the nation back into line. He had called for a referendum on his leadership for June 16, but said he might retire at the end of the year, and indication that he expects to win that referendum, but still very much under the appall and tension of the unbridled violence, discussions between the government, employers and unions go on.

As spectators from across the channel, we can only hope that reason is quickly restored.


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1. The unrest and violence of the demonstrators had been building up over the months and years. True or false?

2. Why were the students protesting?

3. Were the demonstrations a very serious matter for the government? Was the government able to control and curtail violent protests?

4. The protests and demonstrations were confined to Paris. Is this correct or incorrect?

5. Was there a leader of the student movement? Who was the leader? Was he free to say and do whatever he wanted? What happened to him?

6. Did President de Gaulle completely agree with the protesters, mostly agree, both agree and disagree, partially disagree, or completely disagree?

7. What was the Latin Quarter like by the end of May 1968?

8. de Gaulle was able to defuse the conflict. Is this right or wrong?

9. “As spectators from across the channel, we can only hope that reason is quickly restored.” What does this mean or imply?


A. Do you remember the events of (May) 1968? What about your parents or grandparents? How do they describe it?

B. Were the 1960s considered a time of great social upheaval and change?

C. Have protests and demonstrations been “effective” in changing or reshaping government, the economy and society?

D. Do people “enjoy” protesting and demonstrating? Is it common and an integral part of society?

E. Are there great arguments, debates and controversy over the events of the 1960s?

F. What will happen in the future?

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