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French Students, Cops Clash Over Jobs Law

March 10, 2006

PARIS (AP) _ Students and police clashed at Paris’ famed Sorbonne university on Friday, part of rising anger over a new job measure that is posing a major test for the government.

Some 600 protesters occupied the prestigious school Friday evening, breaking through police lines and clambering in through windows, said university administrators, who left open the possibility that police might be called in to evict them.

Students and the country’s powerful unions are trying to force the government to withdraw a measure that will make it easier for companies to fire workers younger than 26.

Senators voted for the bill Thursday, and the government says it could go into effect in April.

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 necessary.

Critics say the measure offers younger workers less job security than older colleagues and will undermine France’s generous labor protections.

Students picketed entrances at many of the country’s more than 80 universities Friday. The main students’ union said 45 schools were affected, though Education Minister Gilles de Robien dismissed those figures as ``lies.″ His ministry said eight universities were totally closed by strikes and 26 others were affected to varying degrees.

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

The Sorbonne protesters said they would continue occupying university buildings until the government withdraws the job plan measure.

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

Police tried to enter the Sorbonne at one point Friday to remove the student protesters, but the school chancellor would not let the officers in.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has made tackling sky-high youth unemployment a top priority. But the furor over the job measure has further eroded confidence in the government, and administration officials have worried that it may dent the governing Conservative party’s prospects in next year’s presidential elections.

``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 from Gabon, pursuing a doctorate in philosophy, accused the students of having ``taken the Sorbonne hostage for their cause.″

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Associated Press writer Jenny Barchfield contributed to this report.

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