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French Student and Labor Leaders Reject Job Bill Compromise

Union and student leaders in France have rejected President Jacques Chirac's proposed compromise on a controversial youth jobs bill, and have pledged to continue demonstrations next week.

Student and labor leaders Saturday denounced the proposal as "unacceptable."

The president offered the compromise Friday in an effort to end three weeks of protests.

The bill would make it easier to fire workers under the age of 26 after two years of employment. Mr. Chirac has proposed cutting the probationary period from two years to one, and requiring employers to give a reason for dismissing young workers.

The legislation was intended as an incentive for French employers to hire young workers and reduce France's youth unemployment rate of more than 20 percent, but opponents say it will only reduce job security.

President Chirac says he understands the concerns of France's young people and their parents who oppose the bill, but many opponents accuse the president and his close political ally, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, of being painfully out of touch.

Recent opinion polls show most French people are opposed to the youth jobs bill.

Polls also show that both Mr. Chirac and Mr. de Villepin have plunged in popularity in recent weeks to below 30 percent.

French workers enjoy some of the best job security in Europe, with a 35-hour work week, five weeks vacation a year, and labor-friendly laws that make it difficult to fire even incompetent employees.

But France also has one of Europe's highest rates of unemployment at about 10 percent, and 22 percent for workers under the age of 25.

Mr. de Villepin drafted the youth employment bill in the wake of last year's nationwide youth unrest. The bill was intended as an incentive for employers to hire more young workers.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.