High turn-out, sporadic violence: 'Black Tuesday'

28th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 28, 2006 (AFP) - Hundreds of thousands of people took part in nationwide demonstrations against French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's youth jobs law Tuesday as police took action to stop more outbreaks of violence in the capital.

PARIS, March 28, 2006 (AFP) - Hundreds of thousands of people took part in nationwide demonstrations against French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's youth jobs law Tuesday as police took action to stop more outbreaks of violence in the capital.

As police deployed in the thousands to head off more violence from out-of-town trouble-makers, clashes took place between around 100 youths and union stewards during a march through Paris against a government youth jobs law.

The clashes took place in the Place de la République, the end-point of the march in the northeast of the capital, after the gang stole mobile telephones and cameras from people taking part in the protest.

Earlier a gang of masked youths smashed the windows of a cafe and tried to mug people near the starting point of the march at Place d'Italie, in the south of the city.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy earlier warned that gangs from the Paris suburbs could infiltrate the demonstration.

A French union leader said three million people were participating in marches nationwide to protest against the law, which was created to encourage companies to hire workers aged under 26 but makes it easier to fire them.

Previous marches in the capital have ended in running battles between police and rioters. On Thursday gangs of youths from Paris's high-immigration suburbs smashed windows, set fire to cars and mugged demonstrating students on the Invalides esplanade.

Violent incidents were also reported Tuesday in Rennes and Grenoble.

Visiting a police station near the route of the Paris march, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told officers their task was "first to protect the demonstrators, second, to arrest as many hooligans as possible, and third to protect passers-by and shops. Whatever the provocation, do not yield to it."

Trade unions and student groups vowed a "black Tuesday" of strikes and protests in their three-week campaign against the CPE, which makes it easier to hire and fire young people, but disruption to transport was lighter than feared.

In Paris 70 percent of city metro trains and buses were running normally and more than half of suburban commuter trains. Nationwide two out of three TGV high-speed trains and half of other rail services were operating, according to the state-owned SNCF rail network.

The civil aviation authority DGAC said that a third of flights from French airports were cancelled, but most of these were domestic services. Paris airports were reporting delays of around half an hour on some flights.

Around the country, public transport was affected in around 70 towns and cities. Schools, post offices, banks, government offices and unemployment bureaus were all disrupted, and no newspapers were published.

Meanwhile unions turned down an invitation from Villepin to attend talks on the contested contract, which was voted through parliament two weeks ago and is awaiting approval by constitutional experts before passing into law.

Unions and student groups are demanding withdrawal of the CPE, but the prime minister is offering only "adjustments" on its two most contentious aspects: a two-year trial period, and the free hand given to employers during that period to sack under 26-year-olds without explanation.

Villepin told the National Assembly that he regretted the union's refusal to enter talks.

"As I have said, I am ready to engage in dialogue and adjust the contract on these two points. I said that in writing to the unions ... but they refused my extended hand," he said.

The government insists the contract is a vital tool for fighting youth unemployment, which can reach more than 50 percent in the poor city suburbs hit by last year's riots, but opponents say it is a breach of hard-won labour rights.

But there were clear signs of division inside UMP ranks, with Sarkozy — who heads the party and is Villepin's rival for leadership of the political right — urging "non-application" of the contract pending more talks with unions and employers.

President Jacques Chirac, who has so far given his backing to Villepin, cancelled a visit this week to the northern port of Le Havre in order to stay close to the events in Paris.

An Ipsos poll for Le Monde newspaper gave some comfort to the prime minister, who has staked his political career — and presidential ambitions — on getting the CPE into law.

While 63 percent of the population disapproved of his decision to stand by the CPE, views were heavily influenced by political allegiance. Some 74 percent of voters for his Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) supported his position.

In addition 50 percent overall favoured keeping the CPE "with adjustments" compared to 44 percent who wanted it completely scrapped. Only 37 percent believed Villepin would end up withdrawing the contract.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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