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Macron plans to commemorate May '68 Paris riots

© AFP/File | An injured student is helped following clashes between riot police officers and students during a demonstration in Paris on May 6, 1968

PARIS (AFP) - 

How to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the May 1968 student riots in Paris, an event that shook France and still divides the public and political class? President Emmanuel Macron will have a go next year, his office said Friday.

The protests by leftwing radicals that sparked street battles with police and a paralysing nation-wide strike ignited brief fears of revolution and spooked then-president Charles de Gaulle.

But while the events form a fabled moment of modern history and have been retold endlessly on screen and in literature, witnesses, academics and generations since have never been able to agree on what exactly they signified or resulted in.

Macron, who was born nine years after 1968 but is a keen student of French history, intends to seize on the half-century anniversary to deliver a speech on how utopian thought has been lost in modern politics.

The centrist leader hopes to "think about this moment and draw some conclusions which are not pro- or anti- but take into account how events influence mentalities today," an aide told AFP.

His Socialist predecessor Francois Hollande, reflecting views common on the French left, saw the riots as an expression of "youthful aspiration" and the chafing of an idealistic generation against France's rule-bound society.

Ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, a rightwinger who held power from 2007-2012, once promised to "liquidate the heritage of May '68", which challenged the moral order of the time as well as the authority of the state.

"Should we commemorate 1968? I really don't know, but what I can say is that it is part of our history," centre-right lawmaker Thierry Solere said on the Public Senat channel on Friday.

"It helped liberate things within French society, and then it perhaps broke something that you need to protect in a society."

© 2017 AFP