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Charles de Gaulle was born in Lille in 1890. In 1940, it was General de Gaulle who led the Free French from London. The Free French opposed the Nazis and France's collaborationist Vichy Government. Paris was liberated in 1944, and de Gaulle served briefly as president of France after the war ended in 1945.

He became president again in 1958 when he was called back from retirement to solve the crisis in the French colony of Algeria, where French military leaders had seized power in protest against the French government's decision to negotiate with Algerian nationalist leaders; de Gaulle eventually granted Algeria its independence in 1962. In France he introduced a new constitution (the 'Fifth Republic') which gave him sweeping powers. He increased France's international standing, acquired nuclear weapons and reconciled France with Germany, but blocked Britain's entry into the Common Market in 1967.

After World War II, university enrolment increased rapidly in many European countries. The new student population pressed for educational and social reforms and challenged traditional values. In France, serious unrest occurred in 1968. Students took to the streets in protest against high government spending on defence, and demanded greater spending on education, and a new curriculum. In Paris, demonstrations were suppressed by the police and riots followed. Workers supported the students and there was a general strike against the policies of French president General de Gaulle. De Gaulle was forced to make concessions, promising the students reforms and the workers a new minimum wage. De Gaulle lost support due to his handling of the riots. A year later he resigned from office when the French people voted against his plans for further constitutional reform.

De Gaulle is remembered for his high-handed manner. He once said: 'De Gaulle is not left, de Gaulle is not right, de Gaulle is not in the centre, de Gaulle is above.' 'Gaullism' stands for strong leadership within a highly centralised state. It also attaches great importance to French national independence, and is wary of international movements that might weaken that independence. In 1966 de Gaulle removed France from the unified military structure of NATO, and his followers maintain an ambivalent attitude to closer ties between France and the other members of the European Union. Gaullism is the inspiration behind the main conservative force in France today, Rassemblement pour la RŽpublique (RPR), which was founded in 1976 by Jacques Chirac.

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