French students clashed with police outside the Sorbonne University in Paris yesterday, rampaging after a protest against a new jobs law that was part of nationwide demonstrations drawing about 500,000 people. More than 150 people were arrested.
Police fired tear gas to disperse skirmishing youths at the end of the march yesterday in eastern Paris. They turned water canons on hundreds of protesters who had moved across town to the Sorbonne, torching the entrance of a nearby Gap clothing store and dismantling a section of a barricade erected to keep protesters at bay.
Seven officers and 17 protesters were injured during the two melees at the close of the march, at the Place de la Nation and the Sorbonne. Paris police said they arrested 156 people in the French capital. At the Sorbonne, police were seen throwing youths to the ground, hitting them and dragging them into vans.
Four cars were set ablaze in the protest frenzy, police said. A McDonald’s restaurant was attacked along with store fronts at the close of the march in eastern Paris.
Protest organisers have urged President Jacques Chirac to block a new law that makes it easier for employers to fire young workers. They demanded an answer by tomorrow – then they will decide whether to continue protests that have paralysed at least 16 universities and dominated political discourse for weeks.
“We give them two days to see if they understand the message we’ve given them,” said Rene Jouan of the CFDT union.
Tensions escalated last night as a protesting fringe of youths moved to the Sorbonne, blockaded since police stormed the Paris landmark a week ago to dislodge occupying students. The university has become a symbol of the protest.
“Liberate the Sorbonne!” youths shouted. “Police everywhere, justice nowhere.”
Youths hurled bottles, boards and other projectiles at security forces barricaded behind a tall metal structure blocking off the domed university, which sits in the back of a square in the heart of the Left Bank student neighbourhood. In an apparent bid to set fire to a police van serving as a blockade, protesters, apparently accidentally, torched the entrance of the Gap, on the corner of the square.
The controversy over the jobs law has threatened to weaken he government as elections approach next year. The law, which is to go into effect in April, allows employers to fire young workers in the first two years on a job without giving a reason.
The government says the law will encourage companies to hire young workers.
yesterday’s protests – the biggest show yet of the country’s escalating anger over the law – were largely peaceful, though they tangled transport and hobbled commerce in the capital and several other cities.
They also left French people wondering whether Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, in the toughest test of his nearly 10-month tenure, would hold out. The usually outspoken premier was conspicuously silent during Saturday’s protests.
Chirac has pushed Villepin to act “as quickly as possible” to defuse the crisis.