Street protests, strike in France to reject labor reform 
French gendarmes with protective shields watch as a youth throws back a tear gas canister during clashes with French high school and university students at a demonstration against the French labour law proposal in Nantes - REUTERS

PARIS:  Students and workers held street protests, some of them violent, across France on Thursday while train drivers, teachers and others went on strike to reject a government reform relaxing the 35-hour workweek and other labor rules.

A few dozen protesters that were mostly hooded or wearing masks broke off a peaceful student demonstration in eastern Paris to hurl paint bombs at banks and stores. Some smashed cash machines with bats or set of off smoke canisters while confronting the police.

Student organizations and seven employee unions have joined to call for protests across France to reject the Socialist government’s bill, which they argue will badly damage hard-fought worker protections.

Clashes also broke out between a small group of young protesters and the police in the western cities of Nantes and Rennes.

The strike also affects schools, public hospitals and state-owned broadcasters. It is not affecting Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, though 20 percent of flights at Paris’ Orly airport have been canceled.

State railway company SNCF has warned of disruptions to national and regional train traffic. International lines to London and Brussels should not be affected.

Paris’ Eiffel tower is closed all day. The company operating the monument said in a statement there are not enough staff to open the tower with “sufficient security and reception conditions”.

The Socialist government and the businesses claim the reforms would help the economy by making it easier for companies to hire and fire workers. France’s unemployment rate is hovering at 10 percent.

The proposal technically maintains the 35-hour workweek but allows companies to organize alternative working times. Those include a workweek of up to 48 hours and 12-hour days. In “exceptional circumstances,” employees could work up to 60 hours a week.

The bill is to be debated in parliament in April

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