Despite protests, Hollande sticks to his guns on labor reform | News | DW | 15.04.2016
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Despite protests, Hollande sticks to his guns on labor reform

French President Francois Hollande has vowed to press for controversial labor reforms amid growing civil disobedience. The unpopular president said he'll decide by the end of the year whether to run for re-election.

Francois Hollande insisted he's standing firm on labor reforms that have angered his left-wing base. In a nationally televised appearance Thursday he said the government won't back off from controversial changes.

"I have undertaken policies that are producing results now and that will continue to produce results," Hollande told French TV viewers. "I ask to be judged on the issue of unemployment."

Protesters demonstrating against the labor law reforms clashed with riot police in Paris and several other cities late Thursday as a crowd of around 1,700 massed in the capital in the afternoon, and police said seven officers and four protesters were injured in the ensuing scuffles.

Riot police usied tear gas to disperse protesters, and some demonstrators wearing masks threw rocks and bottles near the Stalingrad metro station.

Baton-wielding officers also charged protesters who entered the Gare du Nord train station, a hub for Eurostar trains to London and other international routes.

35-hour work week under threat

Part of Hollande's far-sweeping labor bill would relax employee protections governing France's 35-hour work week and layoffs. The changes have sparked weeks of civil unrest across the country and repeatedly pushed ministers to tinker with the proposal in an effort to make it more palatable.

Frankreich Zusammenstöße bei Protesten in Paris

Riot police scuffled with masked protesters in Paris

France's unemployment rate is hovering around 10 percent and rising amid tepid job growth in other large European economies.

But the French public appears deeply skeptical over the reforms, and Hollande's popularity has taken a nosedive to make him one of the most unpopular presidents of the fifth republic's history.

An opinion poll by private channel BFMTV showed 87 percent of voters had an unfavorable view of his four years in the presidency. He did not fare much better among supporters of his own Socialist Party, with 69 percent taking an unfavorable view of his term.

Business-friendly Socialist courts controversy

Hollande was elected in May 2012 on his Socialist Party's left-leaning platform but quickly changed tack ,as the economy faltered, to embrace more business friendly reforms. That's eroded support among traditional backers and brought unions onto the streets to protest.

Frankreich Ex-Präsident Nicolas Sarkozy

Former President Sarkozy is expected to seek the conservative nod to run for president in 2017

Indeed, the latest round of proposals has apparently spawned Nuit Debout (roughly translated as "Night Rising") an Occupy-style sit-in in the capital's central Place de la Republique.

"There's a feeling of deep betrayal," 27-year-old protester Mariam Aueto told The Associated Press last week. "This government is doing the opposite of what we elected it to do."

Recent polls have shown Hollande failing to make the second run-off round of the election, regardless of who runs against him, with far-right leader Marine Le Pen seen making it to the runoff.

Nicolas Sarkozy, a conservative former president, is polling no better. Sarkozy has indicated he wants to return to power but faces competition within his own party.

jar/sms (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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