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Jobs: Unions pressurise French President

Written by: Staff
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PARIS, Mar 29: French unions urged President Jacques Chirac to send legislation back to parliament stripped of the contentious CPE youth job contract, after millions joined nationwide rallies and a national strike against it.

A government spokesman brushed off talk that Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin could resign if Chirac's support for the youth job law wavered, but the measure has deeply divided their ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).

In a letter to Chirac, France's five biggest unions said Villepin's obstinacy meant a solution lay in Chirac's hands.

''We ask you, Mr President, to appreciate how much the current crisis is a source of exasperation and tensions in the country,'' they wrote.

They urged him to invoke article 10 of the constitution and order a fresh reading of the equal opportunities law, stripped of the CPE measures which would allow employers to sack at will workers under 26 at any stage in a two-year trial period.

Aides said Chirac, who cancelled a trip to Le Havre planned for tomorrow to stay in Paris and monitor the crisis, would speak out in the coming days.

Unions were to discuss their next move in the crisis after Wednesday's weekly cabinet meeting, having already rebuffed Villepin's offer of talks on modifying the law.

The prime minister championed the measure despite ministerial advice and intense opposition hostility, saying it could help cut youth unemployment of close to 23 per cent.

Union and student leaders say the CPE will create a generation of ''Kleenex workers'' who can be casually discarded by employers.

Unions say they have drawn 3 million people onto the street in protest. Police put the figure at just over one million.

VILLEPIN'S FUTURE

Commentators say Villepin is fighting for his political life as a climbdown could sink his hopes of running in next year's presidential election.

The usually well-informed satirical weekly Le Canard Enchainee said Chirac was furious at his prime minister's handling of the crisis but feared Villepin could quit if forced into a compromise he judged humiliating.

The Constitutional Council is due to rule on Thursday whether the CPE law is valid. It could ask the government to revise some measures in the overall bill and so provide Villepin with a face-saving formula for compromise, Le Canard said.

Villepin is under intense pressure from Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the UMP leader and a likely rival for 2007 presidential elections who has urged him to compromise.

''In 2006, when there is a misunderstanding, you have to make a compromise. There is no shame. It is not a swearword. A real negotiation should take place, without preconditions,'' he told the daily Le Parisien.

The comments came a day after the UMP parliamentary group backed his proposal that the government not rush to enforce the law to leave the door open for further negotiations.

A new poll out this weekend shows Villepin's support slumping 16 points among UMP voters and his approval rating at just 29 percent, Le Parisien said.

Asked if Villepin would resign if Chirac suspended application of the CPE, government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope told France Inter radio: ''That's an odd sort of question. To be completely honest with you, I have not raised that question with him at all and I've not even heard it raised.

''As far as I know, the issue of it being suspended has not been raised. Secondly, it's a law that's been voted by parliament. Today the goal is to show its effectiveness and that's what counts.''

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