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Protests in France reveal exasperation as a lingering recession takes its toll

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This past weekend was supposed to be the start of a week-long winter vacation in France. But angry truckers blocked roads to the Alps, stopping traffic. Skiers were forced to abandon their cars and seek shelter or to make their way on foot.

In Brittany, on the other side of the country, 300,000 people jammed the streets of Rennes to protest a government plan to regulate Roman Catholic schools.

Such fury indicates a mood of exasperation in France as such diverse groups as farmers, teachers, and steelworkers stage a variety of protests.

Put together, the actions show a mood that commentators are calling ras-le-bol. Colloquially translated, that means, ''I've had it up to here.''

On the front page of the respected daily Le Monde columnist Bruno Frappant cited ''the exacerbation of petty interests'' and warned that ''national unity appears to be simply a chain of separate egoisms.''

As Frappant suggests, such separate egoisms are unlikely to coalesce into a broad, well-organized revolt on the scale of the student uprising of l968. The unions are not throwing their weight behind the protests this time. Nor are the protestors questioning the legitimacy of the entire political system. Rather, specific complaints dominate their anger.

Take the truckers. Although they have caused chaos throughout France, their blockades have failed to create a complete political crisis for the government. The opposition, which often questions the Socialist government's legitimacy, refused to support what many Frenchmen saw as a ''temper tantrum.''

But even if protests are a way of life to the French, more anger than usual is spilling onto the streets these days. And many believe the nation's social relations could become more tense in coming weeks.

''Something new is coming over the French workers,'' Henri Krasucki, leader of the country's largest union, the CGT, told a small group of American reporters last week. ''They are unhappy, and this could go a long way.''


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