The President of France, Charles de Gaulle, has issued an ultimatum to striking students and workers who have brought the country to a standstill during three weeks of violent demonstrations.
In a televised address to the nation, he demanded that the French people back his programme of reform – or accept his resignation. He said the choice would be made in a referendum later this year.
In the speech, he said the nation was “on the brink of paralysis”, and warned of civil war if the situation continued.
Violence within minutes
Eight million workers – a third of the country’s workforce – are now on strike, at the start of a third week of social unrest.
Within minutes of President de Gaulle’s speech, riots erupted again in Paris, Lyon, Nantes, Bordeaux and Strasbourg.
In Lyon, a policeman became the first person to die in the demonstrations. He was run over by rioters driving a lorry into a line of riot police.
Crowds of spectators
The largest demonstration was in Paris, where an estimated 50,000 workers followed the traditional workers’ route from the Place de la Bastille to the Place de la Republique.
They were cheered by crowds of spectators who lined the pavements.
But violence erupted when students broke through police cordons guarding bridges across the Seine.
Armed with Molotov cocktails, they advanced on the French stock exchange, the Bourse, shouting “The Bourse belongs to the workers!” and “Occupy the Bourse!”
They broke down the doors of the building and smashed windows, stuffing burning rags inside.
As students on the street outside sang the Communist revolutionary song, the Internationale, the Red Flag was hoisted above the building.
Police used tear gas to cut a passage for fire engines, but rioters made barricades of overturned cars and linked hands around the vehicles to stop firefighters running out their hoses.
By 2230 (2030 GMT), however, the fire was out, leaving the main floor of the stock exchange badly damaged.
Running battles between the police and demonstrators are continuing, with casualties already in the hundreds.
The Latin Quarter of Paris is effectively a siege camp, and there is no sign of an end to the demonstrations which are already being called France’s second revolution.