Protests against France's new job law escalate

Thousands of students and union members expected to take to the streets again Saturday

Tens of thousands of French students marched in protest of a new law that makes it easier to hire and fire young workers on Tuesday. More protests, in which the students will joined by France's main unions, are expected on Saturday.

Last month, the country's right-of-centre government passed a law that it claims will ease the crisis of high unemployment, especially among disadvantaged young people in the suburbs. In France, 23 per cent of those under 26 are jobless and in some suburbs the unemployment rate is nearly 50 per cent.

The "first job contract" law encourages firms to hire young people with little or no job experience, but it also allows companies to fire workers under the age of 26 within the first two years of employment with little notice or severance.

On Tuesday, teachers, workers, union members and Communist Party members joined university and high school students in marches across Paris.

The government's leftist deputies are challenging the constitutionality of the new law before the Constitutional Council, which can review a law before it receives presidential approval.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's popularity has plummeted to a record low of 36 per cent and members of his own U.M.P. Party have called on him to drop the law. President Jacques Chirac, who under French law is responsible for the country's defence and foreign policy while the prime minister is responsible for domestic issues, has publicly supported de Villepin.

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