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French Teachers Walk Off Job

October 18, 2002

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PARIS (AP) _ Tens of thousands of public school and university teachers went on strike across France on Thursday, protesting government plans to cut school jobs and accusing authorities of neglecting education.

About 100 protest marches were launched around France. Similar protests two years ago led to the ouster of Socialist Claude Allegre as education minister.

The 2003 budget proposed by the center-right government of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin would do away with 5,600 school aides and would not renew some 20,000 special contracts for youths who help in schools.

The government argues that the cuts are needed because of the budget deficit, and urged understanding from the unions. But strikers on Thursday accused the government of ignoring schools.

``The prime minister ... has never spoken about education, as if the subject were not an important part of economic and social policy,″ said Gerard Aschieri, secretary-general of the United Union Federation, a major education union.

The unions sent an open letter to Raffarin on Thursday afternoon calling for changes in the budget plan and a ``social dialogue″ with the government about education funding.

France’s labor movement is known for holding strikes that can virtually shut down the country _ and that strength was well in evidence on Thursday.

There were no nationwide totals available early Thursday evening. But the Education Ministry reported that at midday, about 44 percent of teaching personnel and nearly 37 percent of school technical and administrative staff had walked off the job.

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