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French police use teargas to end Sorbonne protest

Written by: Staff

PARIS, March 11 (Reuters) French riot police used teargas today to break up a protest at Paris's Sorbonne university, which students had occupied to press the government to abandon its youth jobs plan, police and witnesses said.

Students had occupied the prestigious university, which was at the centre of France's 1968 student riots, since Wednesday to protest against the jobs plans, which has sent conservative Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's popularity tumbling.

Police stormed the Sorbonne just before 4 am forcing out around 200 students staging the protest and arresting 11 people, a police spokesman said.

Two people were being treated for minor injuries including a photographer who was struck as demonstrators threw bottles and other objects at the police.

Thousands of people have protested this week at the jobs plan, which critics say will allow employers to hire and fire young workers more easily, with students demonstrating at universities across France.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy decided to return early from a trip to the French West Indies because of the student demonstrations, France Info said.

Police moved into the university building after students had blocked off the square outside the Sorbonne as well as the Boulevard St Michel in the heart of the Latin Quarter.

Support for the new employment plan has hit Villepin's once solid popularity. An opinion poll published on Monday showed a seven-point fall in his approval rating in the past month to its lowest level since he was named prime minister in May 2005.

Villepin, widely believed to be considering a presidential bid in 2007 elections, has made reducing jobless queues his top priority since becoming prime minister nine months ago.

The jobs plan is based on a new employment contract, the CPE, which would allow firms to hire people aged under 26 for a two-year trial period before offering them a permanent job.

Villepin says the CPE will encourage firms to hire young people.

Critics say it will make it easier for companies to fire young workers, increasing the feeling of insecurity that was seen as one of the root causes of suburban riots last year.


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