Violence erupts during French student protests

Hundreds of French students march and throw bottles at police officers in protest of proposed changes in labour laws

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Protesters hold a banner on March 24, 2016 in Nantes, western France during a demonstration against the government's proposed labour reforms.

Thousands of French students protested proposed labour reforms on Thursday, hurling bottles and clashing with riot police who responded with tear gas in Paris and also the western city of Nantes.

The reforms, which were significantly watered down under pressure from an earlier wave of protests, were adopted on Thursday by the cabinet of the increasingly unpopular President Francois Hollande, who will be up for re-election next year.

“Young and insurgent, the world is ours” read one banner as 5,000 students gathered at Place d’italia in the south of the French capital, where riot police used tear gas after students torched two cars, threw bottles and emptied a rubbish bin over some officers.

“Police everywhere, justice nowhere,” they chanted to express their opposition to the legislation.

A protest in Nantes also turned violent as students hurled bottles at security forces who also used tear gas and truncheons against the youths, detaining nineteen of them.

At least fifteen protesters were arrested in Paris, where two policeman were injured and another nineteen students were detained in the western city of Nantes after clashing with police officers.

Tense protests were also under way in western Rennes, southern Marseille, Bordeaux, Toulouse and Lyon with a total turnout which was estimated to be at 43,000.

In the opinion of the large crowds of angry university and high school students, the government must withdraw the draft law because it prevents employers from employing new workforce.

Students have been at the forefront of protests over the reforms aimed at freeing up the job market and reining in France's 10 percent unemployment rate.

Among youths, unemployment is close to 25 percent -- among the highest in Europe.

Many young people, including graduates, find themselves working on short-term contracts for several years after their studies, or doing internship after internship while hoping to secure a job.

The reforms are too pro-business and threaten hallowed workers' rights, the youths, along with unions and the left flank of Hollande's Socialist Party said.

One of Thursday's protesters in Paris was dressed as a capitalist, wearing a top hat and smoking a cigar with a sign reading "Business, power, finance -- all together!"

According to a recent poll, some 58 percent of French people oppose the measures.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls has touted the reforms as "intelligent, audacious and necessary", in particular for reversing unemployment.

"Our country has become used to (joblessness) for too long," he said.

The pressure prompted the government this month to water down the contested reforms, walking a tightrope between the insistent demands of employers and employees.

Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri, called the reforms "balanced, both providing new flexibility to companies and new protections for workers.”

'Reformist' unions back measures  

Bosses were unhappy with the withdrawal of a cap on the amount companies must pay for unfair dismissal, as well as the scrapping of a measure that would have allowed small and medium-sized companies to unilaterally introduce flexible working hours.

While employers' groups called on Valls to restore the reforms' original goal of creating jobs, the concessions were enough to persuade several so-called "reformist" unions to get behind the new version while still urging new language on conditions for laying off workers.

The seven unions and youth groups that arranged Thursday's protests are demanding the withdrawal of the reforms. 

Last week students paralysed dozens of schools and universities across France, and on Thursday students were again barricading campus entrances in Paris.

Socialist Party dissidents, threatening stiff resistance when the reforms reach parliament, have presented a "counter-reform".

The government's proposed reforms are scheduled to be taken up by parliament's social affairs committee on April 5, and by the full body in late April or early May.

But before that, the protest movement plans an even bigger mobilisation for March 31.


TRTWorld and agencies