University students and school pupils are keeping the heat on the French government – staging a mass protest in Paris against the new youth jobs law. An estimated 1,000 people took part.Several higher education institutions and numerous schools are closed in the capital and protests have forced lectures and classes to be cancelled in other cities. Both sides are in a combative mood. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin stresses there is no question of withdrawing the project but says he is willing to discuss its most controversial aspects. The opposition Socialists says that, after he used a special law to push through the bill without a vote, the premier cannot be trusted.
The party’s parliamentary leader Jean-Marc Ayrault said: “It is too late for the prime minister to talk about dialogue. He has ignored the unions, the demonstrators and his opponents here. Nobody believes him anymore.”The speech sparked a walk-out by centre-right deputies. But some members of de Villepin’s own party have drily remarked that the First Job Contract or CPE stands for “comment perdre une élection” – how to lose an election. That could be no laughing matter at the polls next year. De Villepin insists the CPE will make it easier to hire young people and thus to cut high youth unemployment. Opponents say it will also make it easier to fire them.