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Some 150 arrests at French labor reform protests

French authorities have accused "violent groups" of exploiting large protests against its plans to reform labor laws. Some 150 people have been detained, including 27 arrested overnight at Paris' Place de la Republique.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo on Friday decried "unacceptable" violence by hooded youths on the capital's historic square - the venue of a month of mostly peaceful "Nuit Debout" sit-in protests.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve praised security forces for their "professionalism," but prominent leftist trade unionist Olivier Besancenot accused police of heavy-handedness.

Early Friday, police moved in to remove 150 youths who threw cobblestones and torched vehicles after defying orders to clear the square by midnight. Of the 27 arrested, 24 persons were detained, police said.

Widespread protest

Paris's violence follows clashes Thursday in other French cities that resulted in 124 arrests, with 24 police being injured, including one with a cracked skull.

Thursday's nationwide protests had drawn at least 170,000 workers and students opposed to a draft law that would make hiring and firing easier.

Police blamed some 100 "especially violent demonstrators" for the subsequent Paris nighttime violence.

Opposition to labor law reform

The Nuit Debout (Up All Night) protests began last March, inspired by opposition to the labor reforms, and drew up to 3,000 mainly young people nightly.

Cazeneuve late on Thursday rejected demands from right-wing politicians for an outright ban on demonstrations.

Those calling for the ban say that France is still under a state of emergency imposed after the November jihadist attacks in Paris.

France's Socialist government headed by President Francois Hollande has so far waived the blanket curfew option it has under state-of-emergency rules.

Economic growth

The unrest coincided Friday with fresh data showing that France posted an slight acceleration in economic growth in the first quarter of 2016.

Compared to the last quarter of 2015, Europe's second-biggest economy grew by 0.3 percent, driven especially by an increase in consumer spending.

Labor Minister Michel Sapin

Kickstart efforts "bearing fruit," says Sapin

Efforts to kickstart the economy were "bearing fruit," said French Finance Minister Michael Sapin.

Unemployment high

Earlier this week, the labor ministry said the number of unemployed had fallen by 60,000 in March, still leaving 3.5 million people seeking work.

Its monthly report did not include an unemployment rate, but according to figures published late last year, it remains stuck above 10 percent.

The report also showed that the number of partially unemployed people had risen to a new high. The average time spent unemployed stood at 580 days.

Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri said small and mid-sized firms had increased hiring after signing up to recently announced government payouts for taking on workers.

France's Medel employers urged her not to dilute the labor reform bill under pressure from students and unions.

Ipj/tj (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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