Students protest French worker law


PARIS --Tens of thousands of students marched through Paris and other French cities yesterday, stepping up their opposition to a new law that makes it easier to hire and fire young workers.

In Paris, university and high school students, joined by teachers, workers, union members and Communist Party members, marched across town stopping traffic as they chanted slogans such as "We're not cannon fodder" and "We're not young flesh for the boss." Near the Sorbonne, police clashed with small groups of protesters, dispersing them with tear gas.

More than half of France's 84 public universities remained completely or partially closed yesterday because of student blockades, according to the Ministry of National Education.

The Sorbonne, at the University of Paris, remained closed three days after riot police used tear gas to evacuate about 300 students. University officials said the occupation had caused $600,000 to $1.2 million damage.

The protests are driven by domestic politics and the fear of change among France's middle and working class.

Designed by the government to help ease the crisis of high unemployment, particularly among disadvantaged young people in the suburbs, the law is seen by opponents as a step toward eroding employment rights and benefits.

Opposition to the "first job contract" law, whose goal is to encourage firms to hire young people with little or no job experience, has confronted Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin with one of the more serious crises in his 10 months in office.

Under France's political system, de Villepin is the head of government and answerable to parliament. President Jacques Chirac, the head of state, is responsible for defense and foreign policy, and, whenever possible, tries to distance himself from domestic troubles.

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