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France is holding its breath, unsure whether it is on the brink of something calamitous, maybe even the death of the fifth republic, or merely another political spat. For the past 12 months there has been an atmosphere of fin de régime: Chirac’s defeat in the referendum, his lost prestige in Europe, his emergency operation and reportedly poor recovery, his inadequacy during the riots last November. But now, with the overwhelming rejection of a labour law already passed by parliament, people are wondering, half excitedly, half fearfully, how and where this crisis will end. Can a discredited, unpopular president limp…

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