French students protest against labor law

French student groups, bolstered by a firm show of support from trade unions, planned a new protest march Tuesday to ratchet up pressure on the premier to scrap a contested labor law. Dominique de Villepin's allies said he was likely to lay out a response to the protests over the "first job contract" at a meeting of his ruling conservative party on Tuesday. The premier has not backed down, and called for talks with labor and student groups.

Attention also focused on the fate of a protester in a coma after clashes with police following marches in Paris on Saturday. The PTT-SUD union claimed the 39-year-old man had been "violently trampled by a police charge." The jobs law, passed by parliament this month, is designed to reduce youth unemployment by making it easier for companies to hire and fire under a new job contract. Critics fear it will hurt job security.

The debate looms large before next year's presidential and legislative elections. Polls show Villepin's popularity in a tumble, and opposition Socialists have vowed to revoke the measure if they return to power.

Overnight, hundreds of students occupied a prestigious Paris graduate school of social sciences, known as EHESS, but the situation was calm and police were not immediately called in, school president Daniele Hervieu-Leger said by telephone.

Police said students opposed to the new labor contract planned a march the fourth in eight days across Paris ' Left Bank on Tuesday afternoon. Other students, frustrated by the paralysis of their schools by protesters, called for a "counter-demonstration" at the nearby Sorbonne university. The Sorbonne has been an epicenter of recent protests that at times have spilled over into clashes between stone-throwing youths and police.

Many student groups were emboldened by a call Monday by trade unions for a national day of strikes for March 28 to protest the jobs plan the latest escalation of the opposition movement. The strike is expected to affect sectors from travel to heavy industry to schools. Individual unions were to offer more details in the coming days.

Students have blockaded dozens of universities across France , sparking pockets of dissension among some students who want to continue their studies. Courts have begun intervening. A tribunal in the southeastern France late Monday ordered an end to one such blockage in the Alpine city of Grenoble, ruling that every student found occupying any of the three city universities could face fines of 50 (US$60) a day starting Thursday. Another day of nationwide student street protests is planned Thursday, reports the AP.

N.U.