It's not over yet: France awaits another show of force

3rd April 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 3, 2006 (AFP) - The French government of President Jacques Chirac braced for more protests over its contested youth jobs law Monday, amid the first signs of a possible resolution of the month-long crisis.

PARIS, April 3, 2006 (AFP) - The French government of President Jacques Chirac braced for more protests over its contested youth jobs law Monday, amid the first signs of a possible resolution of the month-long crisis.

Unions and student groups planned a fifth day of nationwide strikes and demonstrations for Tuesday, hoping to repeat their success of a week ago when more than a million people took to the streets against the unpopular First Employment Contract (CPE).

The mobilisation comes after Chirac's address to the nation on Friday, in which he offered an elaborate compromise to end one of most disastrous periods of his 11-year presidency: signing the controversial measure into law but immediately promising new legislation to amend its most contentious points.

Opponents continued to insist that they would pursue their campaign until the contract is formally abrogated, but there were hints that unions and student groups were now willing to enter negotiations with the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party.

Speaking on France Inter radio student leader Bruno Julliard said, "We will answer yes to the invitation (to talks) as long as there is a guarantee that no CPE contract will be signed in the coming days."

"If these discussions are aimed at implementing measures that respond to the concerns of young people and the whole question of how they can get into the work-force, then why not?" said Jacques Voisin of the CFTC union.

An open-ended contract for under 26 year-olds that can be terminated in the first two years without explanation, the CPE was meant to bring down France's chronically high youth unemployment rate which hits more than 50 percent in suburban areas hit by last year's riots.

But it provoked a massive popular backlash, with millions taking part in a series of protest marches which on several occasions ended in violence and arrests.

On Sunday the CPE officially became law, but the government immediately wrote to employers' organisations asking them not to sign any of the new contracts.

In his televised address to the nation on Friday, Chirac asked for a new law to be drawn up in the coming weeks which would lower the test-period for under 26-year-olds from two years to one, and require employers to offer a written explanation in case of dismissal.

More than two-thirds of respondents in an IPSOS poll published on Monday believed that Chirac's response risked provoking even more radical protests, while 52 percent said they had found him unconvincing.

French newspapers all reported that Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin — who conceived and championed the CPE — has been sidelined in the search for a solution to the crisis, with his arch-rival UMP chief and interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy taking the reins.

Sarkozy, who has never hidden his lack of enthusiasm for the CPE, held telephone conversations over the weekend with leaders of the main unions, amid signs that many in the ruling party have decided the contract is no longer worth fighting for.

Former prime minister Edouard Balladur told Europe 1 radio Monday that "(The CPE) has disappeared, it's dead. Everyone knows it."

UMP deputy Patrick Devedjian, who is a close ally of Sarkozy, told Libération newspaper that "It's over. It's the end of the CPE. Finally we are going to have a real parliamentary debate and a real dialogue with the social partners. It will end with abrogation."

Nonetheless unions and student groups predicted hundreds of thousands would take part in Tuesday's demonstrations, and disruption is expected on public transport. Train and metro services will be reduced, and the civil air authority predicted delays and cancellations.

Student groups vowed to keep up strikes that have partially or totally closed more than half France's 84 universities, and to continue wild-cat actions to disrupt road and rail traffic.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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