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French Renew Protests Against Labor Law


A new spate of strikes and demonstrations swept across France Tuesday as hundreds of thousands of French of all ages took to the streets to protest an unpopular new labor law targeting young workers. There are no signs the protests are abating.

The scene at the Place de la Republique in northern Paris is by now all too familiar: Thousands of protesters preparing for yet another afternoon of demonstrations against the first employment contract - a new French law that allows companies to more easily hire and fire young French workers.

Tuesday's demonstration is the fifth massive, nationwide protest in just a month against the legislation. The government argues the law will reduce high unemployment among young people. But critics say it will only increase job insecurity. And once again, hundreds of thousands of people marched in major cities around France.

The atmosphere was festive at the Place de la Republique. Balloons bobbed in the sun, and vendors sold hot dogs and cold drinks. Scrawled in crayons on the face of 16-year-old high school student Sara Virraux were the words no to CPE - French shorthand for the new job law.

Virraux hopes these ongoing protests, and student blockades of French high schools and universities, will ultimately force the center-right government of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to scrap the legislation.

So does French civil servant Stephan Radodcic, standing nearby with a newspaper tucked under one arm. Radodcic says both his children have college degrees. But both are having a hard time finding jobs. He believes businesses should hire more young workers - and doesn't think the jobs legislation will solve matters.

The law is turning into a major political headache for Prime Minister de Villepin, who pushed it through parliament last month. His popularity has plummeted and he is rapidly loosing support from members of his own Union for a Popular Majority Party.

On Friday, French President Jacques Chirac announced modifications to the legislation, which has technically gone into effect. But businesses are barred from applying it until the changes are made. Now, a growing number of analysts believe French protesters may have won - and that the job legislation is essentially dead.