Hundreds in Paris demand universities re-open

27th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 26, 2006 (AFP) - Several hundred people demonstrated in central Paris Sunday to demand an end to protests over the government's youth jobs programme and the re-opening of strike-bound universities.

PARIS, March 26, 2006 (AFP) - Several hundred people demonstrated in central Paris Sunday to demand an end to protests over the government's youth jobs programme and the re-opening of strike-bound universities.

Students and lecturers were joined in front of the City Hall by supporters of the campaigning group "Liberté-Chérie" (Dear Freedom) beneath banners reading "Stop the Strikes" and "Hands off my Campus".

Around 60 of France's 84 universities are totally or partially shut down as a result of three weeks of protests against Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's contested First Employment Contract (CPE), which makes it easier to hire and fire young people.

Many university rectors have taken the decision to stop courses because of growing tensions between pro- and anti-strike students.

"I can't accept the way the protesters have imposed their view on the rest of us," said Louis Porceret, 19, who studies law at Nanterre University in the Paris suburbs.

"I've had three weeks with no lectures. The majority wants to go back to work, but a small minority of activists has shut the place down," he said.

"We have tried to force the blockade, but you have to be in sufficient numbers. And then when you go to a lecture hall, the protesters follow you in and heckle to stop you working," said Edouard Petit, a management student at the Tolbiac campus in Paris. "The atompshere is very tense."

Some students manage to keep in touch with courses via the Internet,  demonstrators said. But books are hard to find because libraries are often closed.

Many also fear that exams normally held in May and June will be deferred to September. "It's going to wreck the summer holidays," said Petit.

Fady Bekhit, a 20-year-old who came to Paris from Egypt to complete his studies in electronics at the Jussieu campus, said he was shocked at being prevented from attending his course for the last three weeks.

"Protesting against the government is one thing. But stopping people working is something else. It is totally undemocratic. The general assemblies are taken over by a highly organised minority. If you try to speak against the blockades, you are shouted down," he said.

Organisers of the demonstration at City Hall, called by a collective of associations, claimed 3,000 were present though police said there were about 1,000.

Besides the students, parents and teachers took part.

"We agree with the right to demonstrate but people do not have the right to stop us studying," said Liberté-Chérie leader Vincent Ginocchio.

The crowd chanted "Let us Work" and "Jail the Rioters" — a reference to violence that has marred several anti-CPE demonstrations. In a wink at a famous May 1968 slogan, a banner read: "It is forbidden to forbid students from studying."

"The CPE is not the issue here. The issue is the freedom of students to study," said Vincent Poncet, a spokesman for Libérte-Chérie. "It is the same principle that is at stake when our public sector unions go on strike and prevent people from working."

A further day of nationwide strikes and demonstrations is planned for Tuesday, as unions and student groups try to force Villepin to abandon his contested contract. The prime minister says it is a vital tool against youth unemployment, but opponents say it is a breach of labour rights.

"I very much hope Villepin will not give way," said Luc Tiberghien, a 70- year-old retired businessman. "And I do not think he will.

"This is a last chance for (Villepin's ally President Jacques) Chirac to stick to a reform and see it through. If he gives way his last year in office will be a write-off. And the French do not like these disturbances. If there is more violence on Tuesday, then you will see — the tide will turn against the protests," he said.

Chirac's current term in office ends in May 2007. After 12 years as president, he is likely not to run again. Villepin has been named as a possible successor, but his political future may hinge on the outcome of the CPE struggle.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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