French students riot again

About 50 rioters hurled paving stones at police armed with shields as protests against the legislation spread from universities to hundreds of secondary schools, with no signs of a let-up in the struggle between government and an alliance of students and trade unions.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin continued to hold out, reiterating that he would not withdraw of his legislation aimed at making working practices more flexible to lower unemployment, seen by critics as a threat to job security.

Yelling “Police everywhere, justice nowhere!” rioters tried to attack metal police barriers cordoning off the Sorbonne as some tried to take down a metal street sign to use it as a missile, while others set two mattresses on fire and hurled them at police.

Elsewhere about 40,000 university and high school students demonstrated peacefully throughout the country as about 25 per cent of the country’s 4,370 lycees, secondary schools, were hit by total or partial closures as part of the campaign.

Mr Villepin has told deputies and senators of his UMP parliamentary party: “Three things are impossible: one is withdrawal which would mean capitulating before the logic of ultimatums and preconditions. Our voters don’t want that.

“Second is suspension. Quite simply that is against our constitution. Third distortion of our project: to lose the balance of the project would deprive us of any chance of success.”

Threats of violence

In the Seine-Saint Denis area of the northern Paris suburbs, where riots started last October, 25 out of 64 lycees were affected, and police said they were increasingly concerned about the threat of violent incidents.

Cars were set alight overnight in the neighbourhood of Drancy and there were scuffles between high school students and riot police during the morning.

In the Essonne area of the southern Paris suburbs police used tear-gas to disperse a crowd of some 400 high school students hurling stones.

Protests against the CPE continued to hit universities, with the education ministry saying that 15 were completely shut today and a further 41 experiencing disturbances and demonstrations were staged in Paris, Strasbourg, Clermont-Ferrand, Rennes, Nancy and Lyon.

Vandals armed with baseball bats tagged behind the Paris protest in the Latin Quarter, smashing car windows and stealing mobile phones from passers-by.

About 300 students attended a demonstration at the Pantheon near the Sorbonne University, which has been closed for 10 days, demanding an end to the student protests and a right to return to work.

The CPE jobs contract for under 26-year-olds can be broken off during a two-year trial period and opponents say it is a breach of hard-won labour rights.

The government says it is a tool for bringing down youth unemployment, which is more than 50 per cent in the poor high-immigration areas hit by last year’s riots.

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