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French scientists win extra funds, jobs

PARIS, April 7 (AFP) – France’s new government on Wednesday restored more than 500 permanent jobs in scientific research, surrendering on an issue that had played a role in its election humiliation last month, and vowed to create hundreds more.

New Education Minister François Fillon said 550 public-sector research jobs with a permanent status would be restored “as soon as possible, during this year.”

A thousand other jobs, combining the role of teacher and researcher, would be created in French universities over the next 18 months, he added.

A headline-making protest campaign by French scientists became a factor in last month’s regional electional campaign which culminated in a drubbing for President Jacques Chirac’s centre-right Union for a Popular Majority (UMP).

Fillon said the 550 new jobs would comprise 200 positions for researchers and 350 positions for technicians and research engineers.

Budget constraints last year downgraded the status of these jobs to that of rolling, temporary contracts.

That move was bitterly attacked as damaging for laboratories, which need committed, long-term employees.

Scientists staged several big rallies in major French cities and some 2,000 laboratory directors quit their administrative functions to press their campaign.

They accused the government of starving French science of funds so that each year thousands of talented researchers headed abroad in frustration, mainly to the United States.

Fillon said on Wednesday: “The government has decided to make an exceptional effort by inviting applications for 550 [permanent] jobs as soon as possible, during this year.”

He added: “It was essential for a favourable solution to the crisis.”

The spokesman for the scientists’ protest movement, Alain Trautmann, was delighted at the announcement, which culminated a three-month campaign by men and women rarely seen by the public.

“We have obtained everything we wanted in terms of emergency aid… we have stopped the haemorrhaging,” Trautmann said.

Of the thousand university jobs, 300 will be created for the autumn of this year, which is the start of the academic year in France, and the others would be scheduled for autumn 2005, Fillon said.

The elections to France’s regional councils gave a resurgent Socialist party (PS) control over 20 out of metropolitan France’s 22 regional councils.On April 1, Chirac said Thursday he had “heard the message” from voters and said “the fundamental need for social justice” would be closely observed by his government.

Other big election issues were France’s obstinately high unemployment rate and resentment at Chirac’s support for a lieutenant, former premier Alain Juppe, whose political career was crippled by a conviction for financial sleaze.

                                                                 Subject: French news