PARIS (AP) – French students, emboldened by President Jacques Chirac’s cave-in on a youth jobs measure, prepared new protests Tuesday to try to get rid of other government labor reforms.
Unions declared victory on Monday after Chirac abandoned the measure that had spurred nationwide unrest, paralyzed secondary schools and universities and created a crisis for the government.
Chirac’s retreat, and school vacations that started this week, may make Tuesday’s protests smaller than previous mass nationwide actions. But police deployed around Paris several hours before the protest, on alert for more of the violence that has marred many marches.
Students hoping to make use of the momentum to force the government to back down on other measures planned demonstrations Tuesday across the country.
Scattered groups staged impromptu protests: dozens of students blocked a bus depot in the southwestern city of Toulouse; others briefly stormed the tarmac of an airport in the western city of Nantes before authorities peacefully removed them, according to radio reports.
Ruling center-right lawmakers, meanwhile, sought to piece their frayed camp back together, renewing calls for reforms to loosen France’s rigid labor market. Parliament’s lower house was expected to discuss an alternative jobs plan later Tuesday.
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, the main proponent of the contested job law, said Monday on nationwide TV that it would be replaced.
Chirac said the measure, meant to bring down a 22-percent jobless rate among the young, would be replaced by one directed specifically at disadvantaged youths, many from poor, mainly immigrant suburbs.
The president ordered the pullback after weighing the result of talks between students and unions, the possible political fallout for the right and the danger of increasingly daring student protests on railroad tracks and highways.
The rejected measure was part of a broad equal-opportunity law aimed at youths from the suburbs, where nearly one youth in two is jobless in some cases. The contract would have allowed employers to fire workers under age 26 at any time during a two-year trial period without giving a reason.
Students welcomed the death of the contract but now want the government to scrap the entire law, not just the article that would have created the youth jobs contract. “We want to see how we can take advantage of this power struggle that is now in our favor to garner new victories,” Bruno Julliard, head of the UNEF student association, told AP Television News.
Villepin had argued that the measure would prime the French economy for the challenges of globalization, but critics said it was badly designed and would erode treasured labor protections.
The roiling crisis portrayed a government divided in a battle between the prime minister and ambitious Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is openly seeking the presidency.
Sarkozy, closing ranks, said Villepin was “courageous” during the protests, but acknowledged on Europe-1 radio Tuesday that the job contract was a “failure.”
In an interview published Tuesday in Le Figaro newspaper, Sarkozy said that as interior minister he had information showing the protests were radicalizing, and “that alerted and concerned me.”
A replacement bill was filed Monday at the Assembly. In a fast-track scenario, the four-point measure could be passed by both houses by the end of the week, before parliament’s spring recess.
The new bill, which expands on several measures already in place, increases the government’s role in the workplace instead of decreasing it, as Villepin wanted. Some 160,000 youths would be touched by the measures this year, at a cost of some ¤150 million (US$180 million) to the state.