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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 16:23 GMT
French economy 'to grow strongly'
Students and trade unionists protesting in Paris
Analysts say ongoing student action may hit the economy
The French economy will grow strongly this year, Finance Minster Thierry Breton has predicted.

Mr Breton estimates that growth across 2006 will be between 2% and 2.5%, up from last year's 1.4%.

Although he expects growth of only 0.6% in the first quarter of the year, he said the economy was now gathering pace led by increased household spending.

His comments come as the French economy is disrupted by student and union protests over a planned new labour law.

Unions are planning to strike next Tuesday against the law, which aims to make it easier for firms to hire and fire young people.

'Engine of growth'

The government hoped the planned law would reduce youth unemployment - which currently stands at about 23% - but prime minister Dominique de Villepin has since indicated he is willing to be flexible.

Commentators say lasting protests could dent consumer confidence, much as they did after last year's riots by dissatisfied ethnic minority youths in the country's poorer suburbs.

Mr Breton insists the wider economy is now firmly back on track.

"The engine of growth has set off again, confidence is back," he said.

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