April 11, 2006

Hundreds of Paris students in victory march

By Brian Rohan and Matthew Bigg

PARIS (Reuters) - Hundreds of students marched through the
French capital on Tuesday to celebrate victory over a hated
youth job law but numbers were low, suggesting protests may be
dwindling now the measure has been withdrawn.

Most of the 300 people who marched in Paris were allied
with political causes rather than simply motivated by the
opposition to the First Job Contract, withdrawn in the face of
protests that saw millions take to the streets across the

Parliament will late on Tuesday start to debate the ruling
party's measures to help disadvantaged young people find work a
day after President Jacques Chirac scrapped the CPE, a measure
aimed at reducing a youth unemployment rate of 22 percent.

Opponents of the First Job Contract (CPE) vowed to keep up
their guard until new measures to replace the "easy hire, easy
fire" law for young workers have been passed and marchers on
Tuesday made fresh demands.

"Now we want the withdrawal of the entire Equal Opportunity
law," said Aurelie Daniel, 23, a law student. She was referring
to a wider law on equal opportunities which includes the CPE.

Elsewhere in France about 100 students blocked two bus
depots in the southwestern city of Toulouse for four hours and
Anna Melun, local leader of the Unef student union, said Monday
was "a first victory" but there were other grievances too.


Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who emerged strengthened
after his rival Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was forced
to withdraw the law, argued that the government's flip-flop did
not mean Paris was unable to pass needed but unpopular changes.

"I don't think the French refuse reforms," he told Europe 1
radio. "The French accept change but always want to be assured
that it is fair. They found these proposals unfair."

But he said there was little room for change in the
twilight of Chirac's 12-year presidency: "You don't reform the
same way at the end of an administration as you do at the

Business daily La Tribune went further, saying that no
important reform could be undertaken before a presidential
election in 2007 when Chirac is expected to step down.

Student protesters have demonized both Villepin and Sarkozy
and one banner on Tuesday said: "Villepin we got you, Sarko
you're next."

Some 3,400 people were arrested over five days of
nationwide protests against the CPE in two months, Sarkozy

CGT union leader Bernard Thibault said he wanted to focus
on the CNE job contract which, like the CPE, allows employers
to hire and fire at will during a two-year trial period. The
CNE applies to small firms, while the CPE covered workers under
the age of 26.

In sharp contrast to the victory mood among protesters, the
president of Medef, a union of business leaders, said the
withdrawal of the CPE had shaken economic confidence.

Laurence Parisot praised Villepin for having had the
courage to make a link between the rigidity of the labor market
and unemployment and said that unions "were wrong to see this
as a victory. After victories like this we will all become