Workers and students poured onto streets in towns and cities across France demanding the withdrawal of a new legislation that they say will deprive young people and first-time employees of job security.
Demonstrators carried banners, blew whistles and chanted “Resistance” in the latest and biggest protest against the removal of job guarantees for young workers.
One of the largest rallies on Tuesday converged on the Place d’Italie in southern Paris where sporadic clashes broke out between a minority of agitators and security forces.
Police sources said that by mid evening Tuesday (Paris local time) 387 people had been arrested for acts of violence across the country.
In Paris alone around 200 were detained and officials warned more arrests would occur as unrest carried on through the night.
Authorities claim the arrests were for assault, muggings, theft and vandalism. According to police several of those detained were carrying iron bars, pickaxe handles, tear gas canisters or knives.
Media office stormed
About 50 students broke into the Paris headquarters of the French international news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) to protest against its coverage of the mass demonstrations.
“There has to be a stop to the use of this vague concept of ‘trouble-makers’. It’s not gratuitous violence,” said a student who identified herself as Halima.
The students hung a banner declaring “we are all trouble-makers” across the facade of the AFP headquarters.
“It’s a way of expressing a political point of view, as happened in the suburbs in November,” Halima told AFP reporters, referring to riots that occurred in the suburbs of Paris in November 2005.
At that time unemployed, largely disaffected youths many of them second-generation immigrants rioted for more than ten days.
“We all want to break the system, whether the violence is physical or symbolic,” Halima said.
The students left the building after 30 minutes.
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin insists the new law is intended to encourage companies to hire inexperienced people aged under 26, but will allows employers to terminate the youths’ contracts without justification for the first two years.
Mr de Villepin said the legislation is crucial in reducing France’s exceptionally high youth unemployment rate and making the country more competitive.
One woman at the demonstration said that the government had stopped listening to the public. “It is sad, but if you want to change things and be heard, taking to the streets is the only way in our country. Democracy through the ballot box, that’s only an illusion,” she said.
Two young medical students, who identified themselves as Melanie and Laetitia, said they were supporting the demonstration out of solidarity.
“If we succeed in our studies, there is a good chance we will not be affected by unemployment or precariousness. But you never know how things will develop. And besides, I want to live in a society of justice and equality,” Melanie said.
Most demonstrators turned out for a peaceful protest but even before the march got underway, about one hundred agitators smashed the windows of a cafe and confronted police.
Bruno Da Silva, a 21-year-old student, expressed his concern about how far the violence would go. “The more the time passes, the more violent these demonstrations become because of the smashers. I cannot understand why Villepin persists in saying ‘no’.”