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Chirac meets PM ahead of key address on job law

Written by: Staff
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PARIS, Mar 31 (Reuters) French President Jacques Chirac was due to address the nation today after talks with his embattled prime minister and was expected to support a job law that has brought millions onto the streets in protest.

Aides said Chirac would try to find a balance between supporting Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who he could lose if he withdraws the law, and showing that he is listening to critics in an effort to prevent more protests.

Chirac, who was due to speak at 1800 GMT, has nine days to decide whether to sign the measure, as Villepin has urged him to do, or appease unions by sending it back to parliament.

Student and trade unions have protested for weeks against the First Job Contract (CPE), which critics say undermines job security for young workers. The measure lets companies fire employees under 26 without cause during a two-year trial period.

Asked if Chirac should sign the law straight away to show clear support for Villepin, a presidential aide said: ''It is more complicated than that.'' Students staged an initial protest during the day at the Bastille monument, a favourite starting point for protests in Paris, and called for a further demonstration late on Friday at the same place.

Villepin met Chirac to plot their next moves after the Constitutional Council yesterday dismissed a legal challenge to the law which includes the CPE. The ruling put the ball back in Chirac's court and fuelled speculation about his plans.

Unions and students have vowed to continue their protests if the government presses on with the CPE and have called for new nationwide strikes for Tuesday.

Left-wing opposition groups urged Chirac to kill the law.

MORE REUTERS KD RAI2237

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