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Europe

Riots in France as Job Protests Heat Up

Police have detained nearly 300 people after students marches turned violent. French youth are angry: for days, protests have swept across the country as young people demand better occupational conditions.

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Protesters clash with police during a students' protets in Rennes this week

Demonstrators overturned cars and threw petrol bombs at police who repelled them with tear gas and water cannons, as a show of force by hundreds of thousands of French students against the government over job reforms turned increasingly violent on Thursday.

Calm returned early Friday after demonstrators clashed with police on Paris's Place de la Sorbonne square in the Latin Quarter following a protest march.

Französische Studenten setzen Protestaktionen fort

Riot policemen arrest two protesters during clashes near the Sorbonne University in Paris

Protestors also vandalized cafés amid scenes that left the area veiled in tear gas fumes and a bookshop in flames on the square, located near departments of the Sorbonne University.

Police said 46 officers were injured, including 11 hospitalized, in clashes in Paris and incidents elsewhere in French towns including Rennes and Toulouse left several other officers hurt.

Interior Minister claims current protestors are "copycats"

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy laid blame for the riots on militants ranging from the extreme left to the extreme right, and including "hooligans" and "louts" from suburbs of Paris who had seen angry demonstrations earlier this year.

"There were a few hundred delinquents who came to fight," he told journalists after meeting police and firemen in central Paris. "Among them there were extreme left, extreme right, hooligans, and louts from a number of neighbourhoods."

Sarkozy weiß die Lösung

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy blames riots on "hooligans"

The protests were organized in anger at the proposed First Employment Contract (CPE), a contested youth jobs measure. Unions, student groups and the political left say the CPE, which can be broken off without explanation in the first two years, is a license to hire and fire at will, and are demanding its withdrawal.

New job measure is causing the fuss

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who championed the scheme as a key tool in fighting youth unemployment, faces the most serious test of his premiership as the wave of protests paralyzes dozens of French universities. The CPE is aimed at encouraging companies to recruit young people.

The Interior Ministry said 257,000 people took to the streets in up to 80 towns and cities across France, while some organizers set the figure as high as half a million.

Student leaders said that 120,000 people joined the march through Paris's Left Bank university quarter, although police said there were 30,000.

France has a tradition of protest movements

Französische Schüler demonstrieren gegen Reform

High school students shout slogans during a demonstration last year against education reform plans

Large rallies were also held in Marseille, Lyon and Grenoble in the south and southeast, Bordeaux in the southwest, Rennes and Lille in the northwest and north, Clermont-Ferrand, Limoges and Angers in the centre and Strasbourg in the east.

Four people were arrested in the southern city of Toulouse after police dispersed a peaceful 9,000-strong protest.

Violence also erupted last week when riot police were called in to evacuate demonstrators from Paris' historic Sorbonne University. Student leaders described the protest movement -- which is backed by 68 percent of the public, according to a new poll -- as a "tidal wave".

Unions have called for a further day of protest on Saturday, when the head of the powerful CGT union, Bernard Thibault, has vowed to "step up a gear" in the stand-off with the government.

Strikes and sit-ins have spread to two-thirds of France's 84 universities with 21 closed and 37 others badly disrupted, according to the education ministry, with protests also reported in dozens of high schools.

France has one of Europe 's highest youth unemployment rates

Not all students back the protest movement, however, and clashes

broke out in Toulouse as dozens of youths angry at the disruption to

their studies tried to dislodge protestors from the building.

France has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in Europe, with 23 percent of all young people out of work and the figure topping 50 percent in some of the high-immigration city suburbs hit by rioting late last year.

Villepin has said he was open to talks with labor leaders but insists the measure -- passed by Parliament as part of a broader law on equal opportunities drawn up after the riots in October and November -- will be implemented.

The escalating protests have revived memories of the May 1968 student uprising, and have been seen as the sign of a deeper malaise among young French people worried about their future.

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