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Labor Unrest Threatens; Conservative Allies Gunning for Juppe

November 14, 1996

PARIS (AP) _ Facing more labor unrest this week, Premier Alain Juppe has sunk to new lows in the polls and unemployment is at a record 12.6 percent. Conservatives allies, worried about losing power, are talking mutiny.

With several walkouts or protests planned this week and a general strike called by the General Labor Confederation for Friday, Juppe faces another challenge to his stormy 18-month-old tenure.

``The French are on the edge of revolt,″ headlined the conservative newsweekly l’Express. ``Juppe, can he still govern?″ read the leftist daily Liberation on Tuesday.

So far, divided unions have failed this year to shake Juppe. But l’Express says 59 percent of the French favor ``the launching of a major labor protest,″ 63 percent want to dump Juppe and 53 percent want early elections, according to a survey by the polling institute Ifop.

President Jacques Chirac last Friday reiterated his ``confidence in the lucidity and the courage _ and I mean courage _ of the prime minister,″ whose approval rating has fallen to as low as 21 percent.

Chirac, elected to a seven-year term, seemed to ignore the polls for a long time. But since the approval ratings sunk to the mid-30s, he’s been meeting with leading conservative critics.

Former Defense Minister Francois Leotard, head of the Union for French Democracy that is the second-largest member of Chirac’s coalition, called for a Cabinet shuffle or early legislative elections. He favors deeper tax cuts.

Juppe has angered unions by cutting business taxes and pension benefits, selling off state companies and trying to loosen rigid labor laws.

The Ifop poll, conducted Oct. 24-25, interviewed 937 people nationwide. The poll had a margin of error of 2 to 3 percentage points.

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