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French PM Calls for Jobs Law After Riots
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French unions threatened a one-day general strike and socialists warned Sunday that protests would increase unless the government rescinds a law weakening job protections for young people. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said the measure will stand.

Protesters who have been demonstrating for weeks have urged President Jacques Chirac against signing the measure into law. Sixteen universities are on strike in protest over the labor measure and dozens of others have been disrupted. The law is to take effect in April if Chirac signs.

The law is meant to encourage employers to hire because they can more easily fire. It allows for dismissal within the first two years of employment without giving a reason. The French work code contains rigorous standards for firing employees.

In the largest series of protests yet, 500,000 people rallied on Saturday in some 160 French cities. At the Paris rally, police loosed water cannons and tear gas on rioting students and activists rampaged through a McDonald's and attacked store fronts.

The spokesman for the opposition Socialist Party, Julien Dray, warned of bigger demonstrations if the government does not change its position by Monday night.

"When youths take to the street, you don't know what can happen," Dray told Radio-J. "By digging in its heels, the government is creating the conditions for troubles (that can have) dramatic consequences."

Union leaders said they would meet Monday to discuss a work stoppage.

Bernard Thibault, head of the powerful CGT union, said a one-day national strike was possible if the government does not rescind the measure. "If this momentum continues, I think we will quickly get the withdrawal" of the measure, Thibault said.

De Villepin, in an interview published Sunday, insisted the jobs law will ease unemployment and refused to withdraw it but said he was ready to modify it.

"I am convinced it will work, create new jobs," Villepin told the Citato magazine for high school students. "We must give (it) a chance."

De Villepin said changes were possible in the measure.

"In the framework of the law, I hope we can work with (unions and employers) to improve it and enrich it," he said.

The prime minister said he understood the concerns of the opponents about the "anxiety of unemployment."

But he reiterated the need to lower the 23 percent unemployment rate among the nation's youths, a figure that rises to some 50 percent in depressed suburban neighborhoods where unrest erupted last year.

The magazine said the interview was conducted in written question-answer form and reviewed Sunday by the prime minister's office.

The government made clear Sunday it will not abandon the measure.

"The door is open to dialogue," government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope said on LCI television station, stopping short of saying it could be dropped.

"Today, there is no question of not applying" the law, said Bernard Accoyer, who heads the governing UMP party in the National Assembly.

(Chinadaily.com via agencies March 20, 2006)

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