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French Gov’t., Jobless Hold Talks

January 12, 1998

PARIS (AP) _ Groups representing the unemployed, angered by a government crackdown on their sit-ins and the limited aid promised them, vowed to continue a nationwide protest despite a meeting with the labor minister.

``The only way out of this conflict is in the hands of the government and the employers,″ said Claire Villiers, leader of a jobless group, after the three-hour meeting Monday with Labor Minister Martine Aubry.

A countrywide protest was planned Tuesday.

France suffers from 12.4 percent unemployment, and more than one-third of the unemployed have been out of work for more than a year. Their advocates are demanding higher monthly benefits and aid beyond the 1 billion francs ($170 million) promised last week by Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

Jospin, however, has insisted that he can’t provide more funding without busting a budget limited by requirements to qualify for the euro, Europe’s single currency planned next year.

Jospin so far appears to have limited the damage with his carrot-and-stick policy, holding together his seven-month-old coalition with the Communists and Greens.

But the jobless protests and rising street violence linked to a lack of jobs for youths have plagued Jospin in recent weeks and could weaken the left in March regional elections.

Jobless activists threatened to intensify their actions after Saturday’s predawn crackdown by riot police. But sit-ins Monday were reported in only a handful of cities including Lyon, Guingamp and Saint Nazaire.

Jospin is hoping his job programs and plans to reduce the legal workweek from 39 hours to 35 hours will gradually cut the unemployment rate.

But critics contend the government should slash heavy employment taxes and loosen strict employment rules to encourage more hiring.

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