French police fires tear gas at protesting students

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Some 20,000 high school students in Paris hurl tin cans and rocks in view of the government’s plan to cut jobs in education.

16 April 2008

PARIS - French police fired tear gas on Tuesday at high school students who hurled tin cans and rocks at them during protests in Paris against the government's plan to cut jobs in education.

Police said 20,000 students took to the streets, but unions put the figure much higher at between 40,000 and 50,000 demonstrators in a march that began with scuffles, but later continued without incident.

It was the sixth and biggest protest over the past three weeks against the proposed 11,200 job cuts, including 8,830 teaching positions, that the government plans to introduce for the new school year starting in September.

The protest action has been gaining momentum and is expected to culminate with national demonstrations on 15 and 24 May.

Students carried placards assailing President Nicolas Sarkozy that read "Just scrap one job: the one at the Elysee" and banners saying "Students are angry" that targeted education minister Xavier Darcos.

"Providing the means remains our central demand. Xavier Darcos cannot deny that this is central to quality education," said Florian Lecoultre, president of the UNL student union.

The job cuts are part of a drive by Sarkozy's rightwing government to streamline the public service and cut France's huge spending deficit.

But the student groups and the opposition argue that the measures will affect the quality of education.

About 19,000 high school students took to the streets of Paris on Thursday, according to police, but organisers said up to 40,000 took part.

Standing in the firing line, Darcos has repeatedly vowed not to backtrack on the job cuts that the government has said will be achieved by not replacing retiring personnel.

"I don't want to talk about this issue of posts because it seems to me that everyone agrees on the fact that this is not the real issue," Darcos told Europe 1 radio.

"When you have 1,000 students for 100 teachers, whether they be 98 or 102, fundamentally, that's not what will reform our secondary schools," he said.

The minister dismissed the protests as an all-too-familiar reaction in France.

"France is very nervous, very conservative. Let's be frank, when some modernisation is proposed, there is resistance," said Darcos.

[AFP / Expatica]

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