World News

Scores arrested in violence at French labour law protests

PARIS (Reuters) - Violence broke out between police and demonstrators in several French cities on Thursday at protests against planned labour law reforms, days before legislators begin debating the proposals.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said more than 100 protesters had been detained country-wide and 24 police officers and military police injured. Protests took place in cities from Rennes in the north to Marseille on the Mediterranean coast.

Some of the worst clashes were the fringes of demonstrations in Paris, where eight police officers were hurt, including one who Cazeneuve described as in a critical condition.

“I call on the organisers of these demonstrations to condemn with the same firmness that I do the unrest caused by this handful of thugs,” the minister said in the city of Lyon.

Thursday was the fourth day of demonstrations by trade unions against the draft bill in almost two months. A youth protest movement has also held nightly vigils in central Paris during April.

France’s powerful CGT union says the legislation, due to be debated in parliament next week, will let employers bypass regulations on basic worker rights by giving bosses greater freedom to set rates of pay and working conditions.

“We want it withdrawn as long as the goal means the law is no longer the rule, and that every company can opt out on work time or overtime rates. That’s unacceptable,” CGT chief Philippe Martinez said.

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Trade unions say the proposed legislation is not the way to address an unemployment rate which President Francois Hollande promised to bring down but which has remained stubbornly above 10 percent.

Deeply unpopular, Hollande faces a testing few months against a backdrop of protests and sluggish economic growth, before he announces whether he will contest next year’s presidential election or not.

Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri has already diluted the text to drop reforms such as a cap on financial settlements in cases of unfair dismissal.

With traditional Labour Day rallies organised for Sunday May 1, Hollande faces the threat of a more broad-based protest movement coalescing.

An opinion poll published by BFM TV showed close to 80 percent of French people fear an escalation, despite news this week of a significant drop in the monthly jobless count.

France’s Labour Ministry reported the steepest fall since the economic boom days of 2000, in a rare boost for Hollande.

Writing by Brian Love and Richard Lough; Editing by Andrew Roche