Vaiju Naravane

The only solution is withdrawal of the CPE, says union leader

Paris: With negotiations at a standstill between French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and student bodies, trades unions and other opponents of a new type of employment contract, France is bracing itself for total disruption with a general strike called for Tuesday. Known as the CPE, the new contract will have a trial period of two years during which employers would be free to fire recruits without any explanation. Bernard Thibault of the General Labour Confederation (CGT) union said he hoped the general strike would prove to be a "turning-point" in the three-week long protest movement. "We have not yet reached the climax of the dispute. Each day of action has seen an ever bigger turn-out ... The only solution is withdrawal of the CPE. And we can do it," he told journalists.

Determined

Two days of contacts between the Prime Minister and the unions have led nowhere and protesters are determined to keep up the pressure until the Government backs down, withdraws the hated CPE and comes to the table for negotiations. On Saturday, the largest student unions turned down the Prime Minister's offer of a meeting.

This new escalation follows demonstrations in Paris that once again turned violent on Thursday. Parts of the Sorbonne University have been completely destroyed while the Institute for higher studies and research in the social sciences (EHESS) was vandalised with computers stolen or broken, office furniture smashed and filing cabinets overturned. Student bodies said their members were not involved and police claimed the damage was done by "non-student violent elements" who joined the tail end of demonstrations with the express purpose of doing battle with the police.

The Government claims it is introducing these measures to stimulate job creation. Unions say the new contract discriminates against the young.