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Assassination Attempts of French Leader Charles de Gaulle Part 1

About the French leader Charles de Gaulle and history of his numerous assassination attempts.

THE GREAT SURVIVORS

CHARLES DE GAULLE

Gen. Charles de Gaulle, who had been the symbol of Free France during the years of Nazi occupation, was leading the West African port city of Dakar in a celebration of the liberation of his homeland. He stood at attention on the deck of the cruiser Georges Leygues as the band played the "Marseillaise." At that very moment, a French sailor raised his rifle and drew a bead on the general. A petty officer in the French fleet, he was one of many Frenchmen who considered De Gaulle a usurper and a stooge of the British. But he never got off his shot, thanks to a fellow officer who disarmed him and knocked him down. Nonetheless, the unsuspecting general had escaped death by seconds.

This incident was the first of 31 documented attempts to assassinate De Gaulle. (His triumphal return to Paris was marred by gunfire at Notre Dame Cathedral, but there is no conclusive evidence that it was meant for De Gaulle.) That he survived these attempts was due partly to his great courage and his ability to remain calm in any crisis.

Without these qualities, De Gaulle might not have survived an episode in the Pont-sur-Seine district, near the village of Crancey, on Sept. 8, 1961. That night, De Gaulle was traveling with his wife to their country home, La Boisserie, in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, 150 mi. east of Paris. He was unaware that a bomb made from a propane cylinder stuffed with just under 100 lb. of plastic lay buried in an innocent-looking sandpile alongside the road. With the bomb was a canister containing 15 liters of napalm. When De Gaulle's car came alongside, the bomb would be detonated by wires strung to a nearby thicket.

De Gaulle's car (a Citroen Deesse) sped toward the sandpile at 70 mph, driven by his favorite chauffeur, Francis Marroux. As it came abreast, the sand exploded, causing the Deesse to lurch sharply and throwing a sheet of flame across the roadway.

De Gaulle ordered Marroux to drive straight through the flames. "Faster!" he commanded, as the car plunged straight for the inferno. "Faster!"

Neither the De Gaulles nor Marroux was hurt. They continued on their way, merely stopping to change cars at a military barracks nearby.

Who were these persons who tried so persistently to kill Charles de Gaulle? What motive did they have?

There is no single answer to these questions; what answers can be found are complex.

De Gaulle served as premier of the provisional governments of France from the liberation until January, 1946, when he resigned under pressure from political opposition. He again became prime minister in June, 1958, and in December of that year he was elected president of France. He narrowly won reelection to a second term in a runoff in December, 1965. But he resigned in April, 1969, after losing a referendum for constitutional reform.

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