Tuesday, Dec 16, 2008
Even as Greece awakened Monday to relative calm following eight days of rioting by outraged youths, French officials were moving to placate protesting students amid rising fears that violence could break out across France. Given the defiant nature of French student protests over the years — including weeks of violent demonstrations over a new youth labor contract in 2006 — concern is growing in France that the dismal economic outlook could push the current anti-reform protests into the kind of wild insurrection that has rocked Greece.
“What we saw in Greece is not beyond what could happen here in France,” warned former Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius last Friday of the increasingly raucous student protests that closed about 100 French high schools last week. “When you have the economic depression and social despair we’re facing, all it takes is a spark.” (Read TIME’s Top 10 news stories of the year.)
Although incidents of vandalism and clashes with police by protesting students have been limited so far — including ugly scuffling after youths showing support for demonstrators in Greece broke out on the Champs Elysées Friday night — Interior Minister Michèl Alliot-Marie has said authorities are “following the movement with attention.” Alliot-Marie noted “the climate is tense, (and) certain medium-sized cities have suffered damage” to structures during demonstrations.
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On Monday, the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy attempted to cool temperatures by delaying the release of a hotly contested education reform plan just 24 hours before it was due. French Education Minister Xavier Darcos said he would negotiate the package “without taboos” with students, a striking reversal for a minister known for his intransigence.
Protestors vowed to carry on with nationwide demonstrations on Tuesday and Thursday. “We want reform to correct the problems in public education, but we won’t accept this one in any form,” warned student leader Alix Nicolet, who says students particularly hate Darcos’ proposal to reorganize the final years of high school. They are also angry that cost-cutting this year eliminated 11,200 public education jobs and that another 13,500 may go in 2009. “How can the government claim it has no money to continue funding public education when it can come up with billions and billions to support banks and finance groups?”
This article was posted: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 at 11:41 am