PARIS – French high school students blocked train lines and fought with police Thursday, officials said, as they kept up nationwide protests against education reforms despite a government decision to backtrack.
Thirty-eight protestors were arrested after clashes in the central city of Lyon – where a car was burned and several bus shelters smashed up – that left five police officers and at least one student injured.
About 200 students briefly blocked a high-speed train line in the main station in the nearby city of Dijon, where earlier in the day police arrested about 10 youngsters after a bus was stoned and a car overturned.
Barricades were set up at the entrances to schools across the country, but most of the protests – police said 127,000 students took part – were peaceful and most schools remained open.
Protests over the plans – to revamp the school curriculum, cut classroom hours and slash 13,500 education jobs – had already turned violent last week, with students clashing with police in several cities.
Early this week the right-wing government, fearing social unrest modelled on the ongoing demonstrations that have engulfed Greece, decided to put the reforms on hold for a year and also to review them.
But high school students were unconvinced that the government would not push through reforms that they see as decimating the education sector.
"Darcos, now or in twelve months, we don’t want your reform," was a typical slogan on one protestor’s banner, many of which called for the resignation of Education Minister Xavier Darcos.
The decision to put the reforms on hold for a year was seen as the government’s first major retreat from reform since President Nicolas Sarkozy took office in May 2007 on a platform of sweeping change.
Darcos said this week he had conferred with Sarkozy and that both agreed "this reform project had become a focal point for social movements," and risked snowballing into a political showdown with the government.
Various French governments of both left and right have ditched their education reform plans over the past two decades in the face of massive student protests.
[AFP / Expatica]