French President Jacques Chirac abandoned his government's contested youth jobs law Monday, clearing the way for a resolution to one of the worst social and political crises to hit France in decades.
Students and union leaders are celebrating
Chirac announced that the plan, which would have made it easier to hire and fire workers aged under 26, would be replaced with new measures to help disadvantaged young people into work.
The outcome marks a major victory for French unions and student group which mobilized million-strong protests on the streets in a two-month battle against the measure. It is also a serious blow for Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who had fathered the contested scheme.
Villepin: "I was not understood"
Villepin (left) and Chirac
Villepin -- who has been badly damaged by the crisis, his approval rating plummeting this week to 25 percent -- confirmed Chirac's decision in a brief televised address.
"The necessary conditions of trust and serenity were not present, either among young people or businesses, to allow the implementation of the First Employment Contract (CPE)," Villepin said, adding that he had wanted to "act fast" against youth unemployment, which runs at 22 percent, by proposing a strong and viable reform.
"It was not understood by everyone, and I regret that," he said.
Unions, students discuss response
Unions and student leaders, who had threatened more protests unless the CPE was withdrawn by April 17, were to meet later Monday to decide how to respond. Several groups indicated that their conditions had been met, suggesting they would declare an end to the protest movement.
Protests turned violent in some places
"The goal of the CPE's withdrawal had been achieved," said Francois Chereque of the CFDT union.
Student leader Bruno Juillard hailed Chirac's announcement as "a decisive victory", but urged the protestors to "keep up the pressure" until parliament votes on a new law superseding the CPE.
Another student leader, Julie Coudry, called immediately for protestors to lift the blockades that have paralyzed dozens of French universities.
Legislation superseding the CPE was to be unveiled later Monday, according to Bernard Accoyer, parliamentary leader of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), which drew up the law following consultations with unions and students last week.