More than 1 million demonstrators poured onto France's streets, and strikers shut down the Eiffel Tower and disrupted plane, train and bus services Tuesday in the largest nationwide protests so far against a new law that will make it easier to fire young people.
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin held firm, but cracks opened in his conservative government as pressure for him to withdraw the contested measure reached unprecedented heights, with unions, students and the leftist opposition joined in solidarity, and more violence erupting on the streets of Paris.
Interior Minister and presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy, in a clear break with Villepin, suggested suspending the new type of job contract for youths to allow for negotiations. With the government in crisis, President Jacques Chirac canceled a trip planned for later in the week to stay in Paris.
Police and organizers' estimates for the number of marchers varied greatly, but both showed the protest movement growing in strength.
Police estimated 1,055,000 people took part in more than 250 protests nationwide, including 92,000 in Paris. The organizers' total was closer to 3 million, with 700,000 at the march from the Left Bank to the heavily policed Place de Republique.
Riot officers, under orders to arrest as many troublemakers as possible, moved aggressively against youths who pelted with them stones, bottles and other projectiles. Police took more than 240 people into custody and used water cannons and tear gas to try to disperse several thousand youths who gathered after the otherwise peaceful, festive march finished.
Marchers ranged across all age groups, from students with "Non" painted on their faces to older union militants. Many said they wanted to defend the status quo.
"Young people are sacrificed in the name of the economy, and we are here to fight against it," said Maxime Ourly, 18, a literature student at the Paris march. "We don't know what will happen in the future, and we want to control our futures."
Students and labor unions say the contract will erode France's cherished workplace protections. Set to take effect next month, it would let companies fire employees aged under 26 without reason in the first two years on the job, reports AP.
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