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French Students, Cops Clash Over Jobs Law

March 11, 2006

PARIS (AP) _ Riot police clashed with students at Paris’ famed Sorbonne University on Friday, spraying tear gas as protesters occupying the city landmark hurled ladders, chairs and other objects from windows.

The students, along with the country’s powerful unions and other protesters, are trying to force the government to withdraw an employment measure that would make it easier for companies to fire workers younger than 26.

The government hopes the flexibility will spur employers to hire young people, safe in the knowledge that they will be able to get rid of them if they have to.

Critics say it would offer younger workers less job security than older colleagues and undermine France’s generous labor protections.

Some 600 protesters were occupying the Sorbonne Friday night, clambering in through windows after breaking through police lines to join a small group holding a sit-in since Wednesday, said university administrators.

The mass occupation followed confrontations between protesters and police ringing the building, which was forced to close.

``Liberate the Sorbonne,″ students shouted.

By late Friday night, small symbolic barricades made from streets signs and other objects were erected on the main thoroughfare, the Boulevard Saint Michel, blocked to traffic by police.

Students inside the centuries-old school pitched objects from windows, including ladders, chairs and fire extinguishers in the direction of dozens of huddling and helmeted police who responded with tear gas.

A school administrator, Nicolas Boudot, said the protesters wanted to turn the university into ``a battlefield,″ not only against the jobs measure ``but also against all of the social problems″ that France is facing.

Police had tried to enter the Sorbonne earlier Friday to remove the students, but the school chancellor would not let the officers in.

In Tours, 125 miles southwest of Paris, several hundred students moved onto tracks at the railway station, stopping trains for three hours Friday, the SNCF rail operator said.

Students picketed entrances at several of the country’s more than 80 universities. The main students’ union said 45 colleges were affected, but the Education Ministry said eight universities were strikebound and that 26 others were affected to various degrees.

``It’s about our future, and we are determined not to give up,″ said Elisa Penisson, a 21-year old undergraduate majoring in French literature at the Sorbonne.

Ulrich Ngoua, a 30-year-old Gabonese man pursuing a doctorate in philosophy, accused the students of having ``taken the Sorbonne hostage for their cause.″

The bill passed its final legislative hurdle Thursday. The government says it could go into effect in April.


Associated Press writer Jenny Barchfield in Paris contributed to this report.

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