French Prime Minister meets employers and students

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is meeting employers and students to defend new youth job laws amid massive protests and the threat of a general strike.

After weekend protests that organizers said saw 1.5 million people take to the streets around the country, union leaders set a deadline of Monday evening for the government to withdraw or suspend the First Job Contract (CPE) law.

De Villepin has refused to back down over the law, which allows employers to dismiss workers under the age of 26 without a reason during a two-year trial period. He says it will help cut youth unemployment of 23 percent, more than twice the national rate.

"I rule out any withdrawal of the CPE, which must be given a chance to work," Villepin said in an interview with Citato, a monthly magazine aimed at young people.

De Villepin, whose popularity has dropped in recent weeks, met business leaders to discuss the new law early on Monday. He was due to see students and unemployed youth at 3 p.m.

But a spokesman for the opposition Socialist Party, Julien Dray, warned of bigger demonstrations if the government does not change its position by Monday night.

"When youths take to the street, you don't know what can happen," Dray told Radio-J, according to The Associated Press.

"By digging in its heels, the government is creating the conditions for troubles (that can have) dramatic consequences."

Union leaders said they would meet Monday to discuss a strike with Thursday cited as a possible strike date.

Bernard Thibault, head of the powerful CGT union, also said a one-day national stoppage was possible. "If this momentum continues, I think we will quickly get the withdrawal" of the measure, Thibault told Reuters, reports CNN.


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