Prime minister admits 'errors,' regrets 'misunderstandings' in handling jobs law

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin admitted in an interview to be published Sunday to committing errors in the handling of the hotly contested youth labor law and expressed regret for misunderstandings.

"There is misunderstanding and incomprehension about the direction of my action. I profoundly regret it," he told Le Journal du Dimanche. Asked if he had made mistakes, he replied, "Of course, in all political action there is some error."

President Jacques Chirac on Friday ordered up a new, modified law in a move widely seen as a disavowal of Villepin which the prime minister denied. Chirac also said he would sign into law the contested measure likely to happen Sunday but asked that it not be applied.

Asked if he felt he had been disavowed, Villepin, Chirac's one-time protege and seen as his preferred choice to succeed him, replied "no."

"We live in an era where someone is constantly searching to pit one against the other. It is not my idea of politics," Villepin said in the interview, made available Saturday evening. "I refuse to enter into that game."

Villepin's intransigent position on the law has brought students and unions into the streets. However, the prime minister said he avoided what he considered an "unforgivable error."

"The main error, the only one that would have been unforgivable, would have been to do nothing against the mass unemployment in our country," he told the paper, reports AP.

French left-wing parties rejected on Saturday a decision by President Jacques Chirac to modify a youth job law that has sparked a national crisis and said they would march to press for the measure to be scrapped.

Opposition groups said they would join students and unions in more mass protests set for April 4 despite Chirac's speech on Friday, which aimed to defuse a confrontation over the law that has put pressure on Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

Under the law employers can fire workers under 26 without reason during a two-year trial period. Chirac said he would sign it and then introduce a new one to create a one-year trial period and make employers justify any firing.

Chirac missed the point of the student protests, former Socialist finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn said. "They don't want just a trial period shortened from two to one year. They want their work contract to be the same as other workers," he said after the left-wing meeting, informs Reuters.


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