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Chirac party courts opponents on French jobs law

Written by: Staff
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PARIS, Apr 3 (Reuters) President Jacques Chirac's conservatives today courted unions and students with hints of major concessions over a disputed youth job contract on the eve of a new national strike called to demand its withdrawal.

Officials from the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) said they wanted speedy talks ''without taboos'' with opponents of the First Job Contract (CPE), widely interpreted as a coded signal that the party is ready to make major changes to the law.

Tomorrow's demonstrations and strikes will be keenly watched for signs that two months of sometimes violent protests peaked last week with the three million demonstrators that unions say joined a nationwide day of action on March 28.

Chirac said on Friday he would sign into law the CPE, which is designed to promote hiring by allowing employers to summarily fire employees under 26 within a given period.

But he effectively ordered its suspension pending parliament amendments which he requested to cut the maximum period of the contract from two years to one year and to add a clause giving employees the right to know why they were being fired.

''We want an open dialogue with no taboos and no prejudices,'' UMP spokesman Luc Chatel told a news conference today.

''We need to get out of this crisis as soon as possible. We are holding out our hand and want to renew dialogue, so it is obvious that we don't want to be locked into a pre-set time scale beforehand.'' Parliament speaker Jean-Louis Debre called for amendments to be tabled within 10 days but other UMP leaders have set late May as a more realistic deadline for contacts between the party, unions and students to bear fruit.

Student leader Bruno Julliard said talks could take place but called on the UMP to go beyond the two amendments called for by Chirac on a televised address on Friday evening.

REUTERS OM VC1820

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