PARIS -- A massive march by high school students calling for education reforms, including more security in schools, erupted into some of the worst street violence in more than 20 years as groups of demonstrators looted stores, burned cars and battled police on a Paris bridge.
Officials said 50 people were arrested and 89 policemen were injured, mostly in a confrontation yesterday with rock-throwing demonstrators on the Pont d'Alma, one of the main bridges across the Seine in a fashionable neighborhood of central Paris.
Witnesses said that the bridge battle lasted for nearly an hour before police were able to disperse a crowd of several thousand demonstrators with truck-mounted water cannon and salvos of tear gas.
The march, by an estimated 100,000 students and other youths drawn to the city from the working-class Paris suburbs, was part of a month-old national movement by French lycee students who want more funding for education, better facilities and more security officers in classroom buildings.
Encouraged to voice their demands by French President Francois Mitterrand -- who last week announced that "the young should be listened to when they say what they want today and what kind of world they would like tomorrow" -- students also held rallies yesterday in the cities of Marseille, Lyons, Nantes, Clermont-Ferrand and Mulhouse.
At the height of yesterday's violence, Mitterrand was meeting with a delegation of 20 student leaders at the Elysee Palace to discuss their demands.
The movement began four weeks ago in the Paris suburbs after a student was raped in a high school bathroom, and it has caught the French government by surprise. French Education Minister Lionel Jospin, whose ambitions to succeed Mitterrand as president have been hurt by the movement, attempted unsuccessfully to give in to student demands by offering a 9 percent increase in national education funds.
The Paris demonstration began peacefully with students massing on a drizzly afternoon at the Place de la Bastille, ZTC birthplace of the French Revolution in 1789.
As darkness fell, Police Chief Pierre Verbrugghe decided to block the marchers from crossing the Seine. When approaching lines of demonstrators saw the police, they began to hurl paving stones, building bricks and Molotov cocktails at them.