Protests erupt into firebombings
From Charles Bremner in Paris
YOUTHS fought police and set fire to cars yesterday in violent incidents in the heart of the Paris Left Bank, after up to 300,000 university and secondary-school students demonstrated across France in the latest round of protests against a new youth employment law.
The violence, involving youths from outside the demonstration, erupted at the end of a day in which Dominique de Villepin, the Prime Minister, made a gesture towards protesters and agreed to negotiate with labour unions.
Dozens of young people, many wearing masks or hoods, overturned cars, smashed shop windows and robbed student demonstrators of clothes and mobile phones around the Esplanade des Invalides, in the ministry district near the Seine. Riot police fired tear gas to disperse them.
At least 60 people were injured in the clashes, 27 of them police officers. One demonstrator was taken to hospital after suffering blows to the head.
Police said that 420 people were arrested across the country, including 141 in Paris, in fighting that student organisers said had nothing to do with their demonstration.
The protests that have filled the streets for the past three weeks have often been disrupted by so-called casseurs ó radical political groups and gangs of youths from suburban housing estates intent on causing trouble.
With little sign of the youth revolt abating, M de Villepin yielded on his job law, which seeks to relieve the 23 per cent unemployment rate for people younger than 26 by making it easier for employers to hire and fire.
Trade unions, which have called for a day of national strikes next Tuesday, accepted M de Villepinís offer for talks at which he promised to put everything on the table. The Prime Minister had previously refused to water down the law. His intransigence incited the students who want the same generous job protection that their parents have enjoyed.
Student leaders did not immediately accept M de Villepinís offer, which he made after President Chirac was reported to have ordered him to give ground.
Protests over the measure have disrupted three quarters of the countryís 84 universities. Gilles de Robien, the Education Minister, said yesterday that summer-term exams could be postponed until the autumn.
The Government is worried that the increasingly violent student demonstrations could fan new unrest in the poor outer urban districts, which saw widespread rioting last autumn