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Top French court approves disputed youth jobs law

Written by: Staff

PARIS, Mar 30: France's Constitutional Council today approved a controversial youth jobs law today, leaving President Jacques Chirac to sign it and spark more street protests or risk losing his prime minister by withdrawing it.

Contrary to expectations, the council did not issue any reservations about the law, which cuts job protection for workers under 26, a move that could have forced the government of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to amend the text.

Aides said Chirac would go on national television at 2330 hrs IST tomorrow to give his response to the decision after weeks of protests by millions of workers and students around France.

Parliamentary sources said they expected Chirac to sign the CPE First Jobs Contract into law the same day.

Villepin says the law is a crucial tool to fight youth unemployment but student demonstrators and unions have urged Chirac, 73, to send the law back to parliament -- stripped of the CPE articles that were attached to it.

Government ministers earlier today repeated their support for the plan as students blocked several main traffic routes around France, causing traffic jams totalling 345 km around the country.

Train lines were blocked around Marseille, Rennes and in Paris at the Gare de Lyon.

Labour Minister Jean-Louis Borloo dismissed talk of the CPE law being withdrawn or suspended, telling the Senate upper house of parliament: ''In our constitution, as it stands now, the word withdrawal does not exist.

''Nobody, neither the prime minister nor the president, has the power to suspend'' a law voted by parliament, he said. Chirac has repeatedly backed Villepin, widely viewed as his preferred successor should the president, 73, not stand for a third term in elections next year. Retaining the unpopular Villepin will likely prolong the protests while backing away from the new jobs law could trigger his resignation and a full-blown government crisis.


''Waiting for Chirac,'' read the headline in the daily La Croix.

''He only has one shot and if he misses, I don't know where we're going,'' Le Figaro newspaper quoted a Chirac aide as saying. ''There is no good solution, we have to pick the least bad.'' Unions warned Chirac against promulgating the law.

''That would be a decision with serious consequences,'' said Bernard Thibault, head of the pro-communist CGT union.

Student and trade unions have called for a fresh one-day strike next Tuesday after between one and three million people marched two days ago to demand Villepin abandon the contract.

The contract allows companies to fire under 26-year-olds easily during a 2-year trial period, a measure opponents say will create a generation of ''throw-away workers''.

Villepin says it will help cut youth unemployment of close to 23 per cent by allowing firms to employ young people without fearing they have to be saddled with them.

Protests against the measure have disrupted studies and exams at the bulk of France's 84 universities and the government yesterday ordered head teachers of schools still blockaded by protesters to force them open, if necessary with police help.

The protests have dented French consumer confidence, which fell even more than expected in figures released today.

Commentators say the tidal wave of protest has left Villepin's future in the balance and a climbdown now could sink his hopes of running in next year's presidential election.

A new poll due out this weekend will show Villepin's support slumping 16 points among voters of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and his approval rating at just 29 per cent, the daily Le Parisien said.


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