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Tuesday, January 27, 1998 Published at 15:08 GMT

World: Europe

French resist new jobs policy
image: [ French resistance to Prime Minister Jospin's plan to cut unemployment is continuing ]
French resistance to Prime Minister Jospin's plan to cut unemployment is continuing

Thousands of workers and students have joined jobless demonstrators in marches across France in protest at near record unemployment levels and benefit payments.

Estimates showed 5,000 people on the streets of Marseille, 2,000 in Nantes, 2,000 in Bordeaux and hundreds marching in Lyon, Rouen, Perpignan and Dijon.

The latest nationwide protest coincides with a debate in the National Assembly on draft legislation to cut the official working week from 39 to 35 hours - without loss of pay.

The government hopes that will force companies to employ more people and thus reduce unemployment.

The plan is the centrepiece of the socialist government's strategy to tackle the country's near record 12.5% unemployment.

[ image: Prime Minister Jospin:
Prime Minister Jospin: "Job creation is better than welfare"
But protesters believe that the government is not doing enough to solve the problem and are angry that Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has refused to raise benefits.

The business community has also criticised the plan, which Jospin has defended on television, saying it will destroy rather than create jobs.

In recent weeks, protesters have mounted a campaign of opposition including occupying government buildings, elite Paris schools and restaurants. They have also clashed with police.

[ image: Rene Manot:
Rene Manot: "Too much bureaucracy already"
Businessman Rene Manot, chairman of French Cement, said French business already had to comply with too many rules. "On balance the result will be negative. We will destroy more jobs than we will create," he said.

Beatrice Majnuni of the Government Economic Council has written a book, 'The Unemployment Factory' on the issue.

She said the problem was that French people "expect too much".

[ image: Beatrice Majnuni:
Beatrice Majnuni: "French people expect too much"
"As consumers they are partisans of the free market, of technical progress and free trade and they do not want to change that.

"But as workers they want jobs and, in fact, they are still dreaming of the old communist organisation where they could get jobs in any enterprise and it could not get rid of them."

Jospin took office about eight months ago, pledging to make the battle against unemployment his top priority.

In spite of wide public backing for the jobless campaign, he has refused to yield to demands for an immediate rise in benefits, saying the government did not have the 70 billion francs required for an across-the-board rise in welfare.

He has also said he preferred job creation to welfare.

Mr Jospin is committed to keeping the budget deficit down to 3% of gross domestic product to qualify France for the planned single European currency due to be phased in next year.

After initially releasing one billion francs in emergency aid, Jospin called on the unemployed to end the protests and instead back his plan to cut the working week.

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