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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 April 2006, 03:09 GMT 04:09 UK
Rebellious French unmoved by Chirac
By Caroline Wyatt
BBC Paris correspondent

As President Jacques Chirac addressed his rebellious nation on TV on Friday night, hundreds of French students had already gathered at Place de la Bastille in Paris, to listen on radios or mobile phones.

Crowds gather in the Place de la Bastille, Paris
Crowds in Paris booed and jeered when Mr Chirac spoke
When their president said that he would not withdraw the new youth jobs law, despite weeks of protest, they booed and jeered.

Yet President Chirac did make some significant concessions - effectively backing down on two key points.

He said that the controversial two-year trial period for the under-26s would be reduced to one year instead, and that firms would have to justify any sacking.

I don't think people are going to calm down now - I think it's going to be even worse
Emilie Barbette
Student
But the French president's assurance that he understood the students' fears about job insecurity and their future fell on stony ground.

Student Camille Brack said she was disappointed.

"We just want the law to be taken back. To reduce the training period is not a big concession. They're just doing it so people are not going to be even angrier, but that's not the situation at all."

Protests to continue

Her friend Emilie Barbette is studying English at Paris University. She, too, thinks Mr Chirac has done nothing to alleviate her fears.

French President Jacques Chirac delivers his address
Mr Chirac tried to please everyone, but may have upset them instead
"I don't think people are going to calm down now," she told the BBC.

"I think it's going to be even worse. There will be another demonstration next Tuesday and I think that's just the beginning."

French trade union leaders agreed, saying they would go ahead with next Tuesday's protests, as the government clearly was not listening to the French people.

They called Mr Chirac's tactics surreal and grotesque, saying he had failed to address the very real fears of the young over employment in the future in France.

While the president tried to remind the French public that this law was all about reducing unemployment, which is running at around 22% of the under-26s, few seemed to agree that this law is the answer, even within the centre-right UMP, his own political party.

Stalemate

Mr Chirac's attempt to please everyone - and to steer a middle course - has ended up pleasing no-one.

It leaves his government looking weak and indecisive - exactly what his Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin had wanted to avoid.

And it will upset those who want real reform to France's economy: business people who had hoped that after 10 years as president, Mr Chirac might use what is likely to be his final year in power as a chance to push through change and liberalise France's labour market to help it to compete and bring down stubbornly high unemployment, which has led to increasing frustration among the young and those effectively excluded from work.

Yet at the same time Mr Chirac's address has done little to quell the anger on the streets of France.

The government remains on the one side, and the students and trade unions on the other, in exactly the same increasingly fractious stalemate as they were before.


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