French schoolchildren rampage over holiday cut rumour
Several hundred French schoolchildren went on the rampage Friday after false rumours spread that President Nicolas Sarkozy's government wants to take away a large slice of their school holidays.
Protests that began in northern France spread to the capital's outskirts on Friday, where dozens of high-school children rioted, damaging around 10 cars by turning them on their side or smashing their windows, police said.
Staff at the Jean-Moulin high school in Le Chesnay, near the Chateau of Versailles, where revolutionaries marched against France's absolute monarchy in 1789, said children were refusing to return to class.
"We've made a blockade because President Sarkozy wants to take a month's holiday away from us and that's why we've revolted," a 15-year-old schoolgirl told AFP, asking not to be named.
She admitted that it was "disgusting that people's cars got smashed up."
"This is gratuitous, they don't know what they're doing," said an angry woman in her 50s upon seeing her damaged car, also requesting anonymity.
Several hundred schoolchildren protested in northern French cities on Friday morning, local education officials said. Around 500 high-school students protests in Douai and another 500 in Lens, damaging property, police said.
"We can't make head or tail of it. We don't know how the rumour started," said a local education official, who asked not to be named, slamming what he called "orchestrated disinformation."
The official said the rumour was "spreading like wildfire" via SMS text message and Facebook.
The protests apparently kicked off in the northern town of Lens, where around 200 people demonstrated on Thursday, after which police were told to deal firmly with the protests which were described as "unstructured".
Several hundred pupils demonstrated in other towns on Friday, including the Channel port of Dunkirk, and tried to block access to schools.
A steering committee on school holidays has in fact suggested cutting summer holidays by two weeks and increasing the autumn half-term holiday by a week, although no decision has yet been taken.
Education Minister Luc Chatel said in July that he wanted to hold talks with teachers' unions ahead of announcing measures later this year that could come into effect as early as the end of summer holidays in 2013.
© 2011 AFP