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Last Updated: Monday, 3 April 2006, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
French students hint at law talks
Unef leader Bruno Julliard (left) and CGT leader Bernard Thibault
Student leader Bruno Julliard (left) says victory is close
A French student leader has hinted at talks with the government over a controversial new labour law, as protesters prepare for more action.

Unions and student groups are hoping to attract one million people to protests against the CPE contracts on Tuesday.

Bruno Julliard, of student union Unef, said he would accept an invitation to talks, if employers did not use the contracts in the meantime.

The law making it easy to hire and fire young people came into force on Sunday.

'Edge of victory'

President Jacques Chirac, who signed it in, said he wanted a new law halving the probationary period and requiring employers to justify redundancies.

The government has asked employers not to take advantage of provisions that allow them to fire people under 26 without explanation during their first two years at work.

We want a guarantee that no First Employment Contract will be signed in the coming days
Bruno Julliard

French newspapers say Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has taken over from his arch-rival, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, in the search for a solution to avert further, often violent, protests.

Universities and colleges have been disrupted for weeks by blockades and occupations. Street protests organised by the students and unions have attracted thousands of mainly peaceful protesters in towns and cities across the country.

Violence has often flared when troublemakers have clashed with police.

Student leader Bruno Julliard told France Inter radio: "We will answer yes to the invitation (to talks) as long as there is a guarantee that no CPE contract will be signed in the coming days."

But he added: "We are on the edge of victory."

Lack of options

In a televised speech on Friday, Mr Chirac pledged to shorten from two years to one the period in which young people under 26 could be fired - and said employers would need a reason for the dismissal.

Trade unions said Mr Chirac's plan was unacceptable.

Prime Minister de Villepin championed the law, despite its deep unpopularity.

His government insists it will help tackle high levels of youth unemployment - currently running at more than 20%.

Youth unemployment and lack of opportunities were widely blamed for last year's riots in France poorest communities.

The government says the new law will help jobless youngsters in those areas, where youth unemployment can reach 40%. But students say the law will erode stability in the jobs market.

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