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1958: De Gaulle returns to tackle Algeria

France's General Charles de Gaulle has been invited back to the helm 12 years after relinquishing power.

President Rene Coty asked the general to form a new government as the war in Algeria threatens to bring civil war to a France divided into those who want to see the colony independent and those who wish it to remain a part of France.

The president's decision was endorsed today by the National Assembly which voted by 329 votes to 224 to have him as prime minister.

General de Gaulle demanded special powers for at least six months to restore order and unity, and to draft a new constitution for a Fifth Republic and submit it to the people in a referendum in the autumn.

The Assembly will vote on the issue of special powers tomorrow before parliament goes into recess for six months.

Civil war

In a speech to a crowded Assembly he painted a bleak picture of France "threatened with dislocation and perhaps civil war".

But apart from mentioning a change in the relationship between France "and the peoples who are associated with her", he did not say exactly how he would go about resolving the issue.

The general is expected to visit war-torn Algeria within a week. There is growing feeling among the loyalists there that de Gaulle will give in to Muslim demands for an independent Algeria.

More power to president

General De Gaulle resigned in 1946 after a Constituent Assembly drafted a new constitution that rejected his plan for a strong executive.

The general regards the divisions within parties in parliament as a great weakness that may have led to the fall of France in 1940.

He believes in a strong executive and a clear division of power between the legislature and the executive.

In Context
By 1958, the growing number of casualties in the Algerian war of independence (1954-1962) alarmed the French public and drained the French economy, so General Charles de Gaulle was invited back to take power.

On 28 September 1958 79% of voters in France and its African colonies endorsed the constitution of the Fifth Republic that gave more power than ever to the executive and particularly to the president.

The Gaullists and their allies won the November general elections by a wide margin and de Gaulle was elected president in December that year.

After secret talks with the FLN independence movement at Evian in 1962, Algeria was granted independence. This was endorsed by referenda in both France and Algeria.

In 1965 de Gaulle was elected president for a second term but resigned in 1969.

He died of a heart attack on 9 November 1970, aged 79.


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