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French students riots as young and old unite over contested law


04-01-2016 10:40 BJT

France has been brought to a standstill by one of the biggest strikes in recent memory. There were violent clashes in Paris as nearly 400,000 people across the country took to the streets to protest a major labor law reform. The French government says it's the only way to kickstart economic growth. Trade unions say it's an attack on job security. Our business correspondent Owen Fairclough has more.

Students clash with police in Paris for the second time this month as France turned out for the biggest demonstration yet against sweeping labor reforms.

And air and rail services were cut by up to half, while even electricity output dropped as workers united with students against the government.

"We're here to fight for our rights. Otherwise we will lose everything. For us who are quite old it's OK, but the worst is for our children and grandchildren. They will be left with nothing."

"It's ridiculous, we're moving backwards year after year, reform after reform. It's always in the wrong direction, a reform nowadays has a completely negative connotation."

With the highest unemployment in Western Europe, ministers want to make France more like neighboring Germany by increasing short term contracts, encouraging company level - rather than state level - employment deals such as setting overtime rates.

They think this flexibility will encourage companies to hire.

But opponents say it'll threaten job security, weaken trade unions and end the cherished 35-hour work week by compelling people to work longer hours.

These students say the proposals favor employers at the expense of employees.

"The blockade is a demonstration of force, that shows that we're here and we're young and we're sick of this."

"What shocks me in particular is that these are measures taken by a leftist government."

These reforms are critical for President Francois Hollande. He's said there's no point standing for re-election next year if unemployment doesn't drop.

The essential quote from Hollande here translates: "If unemployment doesn't drop between now and 2017, there's no point me being a candidate or any chance of being re-elected."

And while it's inched down recently, it's still more than 10 percent. And time is running out to find a solution that will appease these protesters and get France back to work.

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