5th Mar 2024

Mass protests in France

More than 1 million people are estimated to have taken to the streets on Tuesday (28 March) to try and get the French government to back down on a controversial new youth employment law.

Many schools, universities, government offices and shops were closed as trade unions joined forces with students.

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  • Prime minister de Villepin has made it clear he will not withdraw the law (Photo: European Commission)

Student leaders claimed it was the largest turnout since protests against the law started earlier this month, with the strike causing travel chaos throughout the country.

"It's historic," said union leader Bernard Thibault according to media reports. "For us there is just one outcome and that is the withdrawal of this reform."

The protests were generally peaceful until troublemakers known as "smashers" started to throw rocks and cans at police officers prompting the use of tear gas and water canon.

French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy told police to only get tough with those protestors who were causing trouble.

"My first instruction is that you protect the demonstrators, especially the youngest ones," he said, according to the BBC.

"The second instruction is to arrest as many thugs, that means delinquents, as you can."

In the meantime, prime minister Dominique de Villepin made it clear in parliament that he will not withdraw the law.

"What I do not approve of is to just stand with crossed arms in the face of unemployment and to focus on the past while my compatriots are looking towards the future," he said.

Protesters are demonstrating against the so-called First Employment Contract (CPE) law, which makes it easier for employers to end job contracts for those under 26 years of age at any time during a two year trial period.

The employer can terminate a contract without having to offer an explanation or give prior warning.

The government insists that this will encourage employers to hire more young people while students say it will erode job stability.

The demonstrations are being seen as a major test of Mr de Villepin’s prime ministerial credentials.

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