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Last Updated: Monday, 13 March 2006, 00:56 GMT
Labour law to stay, says Villepin
Dominique de Villepin
The law is Dominique de Villepin's pet project
The French Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, has vowed to press ahead with a controversial labour law that has sparked protests across the country.

The unrest reached a climax when riot police used force to evacuate students from Sorbonne university on Saturday.

Mr de Villepin insisted "this law will be applied", but promised to consult labour groups.

Parliament voted this week to enact the law, which would allow employers to hire and fire young workers.

The First Employment Contract (CPE) is a two-year contract for under-26-year-olds which employers can break off at any time without explanation.

What do we do, just fold our arms as we have done for years?
Dominique de Villepin

The government hopes the flexibility will encourage employers to hire more young people, safe in the knowledge that they will be able to get rid of them if they have to.

The law, which is due to come into force in April, is intended to tackle France's chronic high youth unemployment, which Mr Villepin said reached 50% in some city suburbs.

"We had a crisis in the suburbs a few months ago, people forget that," the prime minister said, referring to riots in the summer that spread across French cities.

"What do we do, just fold our arms as we have done for years? Or tackle the problem?" he asked during an interview on Sunday evening.

Students protest in France
The law has sparked protests among students across France

"I will not accept leaving these youths on the side of the road," said Mr de Villepin, who drew up the CPE plan.

Critics of the legislation say it will undermine generous labour provisions, and that it could be misused by larger employers and make it even harder for young people to find a permanent job.

Students launched protests in dozens of universities last week, culminating in a three-day sit-in at Paris's Sorbonne.

It ended when police stormed in in the early hours of Saturday morning with batons and tear gas, clearing the main building in less than 10 minutes.

Some students accused the police of unnecessary violence, and student union leaders said it could escalate the dispute.

"If the government wants to continue using force... then we are heading towards a serious conflict," said Bruno Julliard, president of students' union UNEF.

Watch Dominique de Villepin talking on French TV

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