-  Sunday 20 September 2020

    Million urged for French protest

    Opponents of a new French labour law are calling for at least a million people to demonstrate against the controversial legislation on Saturday.
    Some 300 people were arrested on Thursday after mass rallies ended in violence in Paris and other cities.

    French President Jacques Chirac has called for immediate talks between ministers and trade union leaders.

    Mr Chirac said the law was important for fighting joblessness and called for further protests to be peaceful.

    Many trade unionists and students oppose the new youth employment law because it allows new workers under the age of 26 to be dismissed within a two-year trial period.

    'Open to dialogue'

    The BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris says the street protests are fast turning into the biggest headache French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has had to face.
    He came to office in the aftermath of the French "no" to the European constitution last May - a rejection that resulted from a similar mixture of mistrust of the French government and a wider sense of disgruntlement in France, our correspondent adds.

    Mr de Villepin, the architect of the law, said he was open to dialogue and would meet university presidents to seek solutions.

    But he refused to withdraw the law, which he said was essential in combating youth unemployment.

    Students fear the First Employment Contract (CPE), which passed into law last week, will erode job stability in a country where more than 20% of 18- to 25-year-olds are unemployed - more than twice the national average.

    Mr de Villepin's government proposed the law to help youths in the French suburbs who took to the streets last year, many unhappy with the lack of employment opportunities.

    Echoes of 1968

    The worst violence on Thursday was in Paris, where riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas. Unrest was also reported in some of the other 80 cities holding rallies.

    The Paris march, which police said was attended by 30,000 but which organisers put at 120,000-strong, was mainly peaceful.

    However, a group of about 300 masked protesters threw missiles at police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

    Clashes went on into the evening and resulted in more than 300 arrests.

    Our correspondent says the measure has become a rallying point for the left and the far left, uniting the May 1968 generation with its children, who want the same job security their parents enjoyed.


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