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Protesters in France confident of victory

Wed., April 5, 2006, midnight

PARIS – French students and labor unions staged another day of nationwide strikes and marches against a labor reform law Tuesday amid signs they would win major concessions from an increasingly divided government.

There was a mood of impending triumph among marchers because of efforts by President Jacques Chirac to end a two-month crisis that has shut down schools and universities and raised fears of a return of last year’s urban unrest.

“We are perhaps on the verge of a great victory,” said Olivier Besancenot, a leader of the Communist Revolutionary party.

More than a million protesters demonstrated across the nation, matching the turnout of a similar “day of action” last week, authorities said. The protests were generally peaceful, though police faced off with rock-throwing youths in the evening as marches ended in Paris and the western city of Rennes. Service at airports, train stations and other public facilities was disrupted by the strikes.

Although Chirac signed the much-disputed law Friday, he simultaneously relented to critics by delaying its implementation and proposing new legislation to soften its impact.

Chirac’s complicated maneuver undercut his protege, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who had staked his reputation and ambitions for the presidency on the initiative to reduce youth unemployment by making it easier for businesses to hire and fire workers under 26. It also allowed the prime minister’s arch-rival, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, leader of the center-right governing coalition, to take a lead role in brokering peace on the streets.

Leaders of the center-left parliamentary opposition berated Villepin during a debate in the National Assembly Tuesday, declaring that the intra-party feud had reduced him to a figurehead.


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