Rallies, defiant words mark French labor-reform debate


March 20, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

PARIS -- A political battle over a new labor-reform law escalated yesterday as unions and students threatened new nationwide protests and the government rejected demands to withdraw the law.

Both sides sounded defiant a day after more than 500,000 people took part in occasionally violent marches around France to protest the measure, which would allow employers to fire workers under 26 without cause during their first two years on the job.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has staked his reputation on the measure to loosen labor protections. Business groups and many political leaders say France's broad labor protections are to blame for high youth unemployment.

While he insisted that he would not relent, Villepin said he would consider "improvements" to "respond to everyone's concerns."

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