PARIS – Students and unions staged new protests Tuesday across France, hoping to ride the momentum that led President Jacques Chirac to scrap a youth labor law and force the government to pull other contested reforms.
Chirac's retreat and school vacations that began this week were expected to deplete turnout from massive recent protests and university sit-ins that prompted him to abandon the "youth jobs contract" on Monday.
Hundreds of students marched in northeastern Paris — far fewer than the 84,000 who turned out in the capital for protests that drew 1 million demonstrators nationwide on April 4.
Police were on high alert to head off a possible replay of violence that marred earlier marches, checking bags of people leaving a subway station near the start of the march. A few tourists heading to a Paris department store expressed alarm at the line of police vans.
In southwestern Bordeaux, at least 900 people marched behind a banner calling for the government to reverse a similar labor measure enacted in August.
Earlier, scattered groups staged impromptu protests: dozens of students blocked a bus depot in the southwestern city of Toulouse; others briefly stormed the tarmac of an airport in the western city of Nantes before authorities peacefully removed them, according to radio reports.
Only half of France's 62 universities that were not closed for vacations were functioning normally, the Education Ministry said Tuesday, but only four were completely shut — far fewer than in recent weeks.
Ruling center-right lawmakers, meanwhile, sought to piece their frayed camp back together, renewing calls for reforms to loosen France's rigid labor market. Parliament's lower house was expected to discuss an alternative jobs plan later Tuesday.
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, the main proponent of the job law, said Monday on nationwide TV that it would be replaced.
Chirac ordered the pullback after weighing the result of talks between students and unions, the possible political fallout for the right and the danger of increasingly daring student protests on railroad tracks and highways.
He said the measure, meant to bring down a 22 percent jobless rate among the young, would be replaced by one directed specifically at disadvantaged youths — many from poor, mainly immigrant suburbs.
The rejected measure was part of a broad equal-opportunity law aimed at youths from the suburbs, where nearly one youth in two is jobless in some cases. The contract would have allowed employers to fire workers under age 26 at any time during a two-year trial period without giving a reason.
Students now want the government to scrap the entire law — not just the article that would have created the youth jobs contract.
"We want to see how we can take advantage of this power struggle that is now in our favor to garner new victories," Bruno Julliard, head of the UNEF student association, told AP Television News.
Villepin had argued that the measure would prime the French economy for the challenges of globalization, but critics said it was badly designed and would erode treasured labor protections.
The crisis portrayed a government divided in a battle between Villepin and ambitious Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is openly seeking the presidency.
Sarkozy, closing ranks, said Villepin was "courageous" during the protests, but acknowledged on Europe-1 radio Tuesday that the controversial law was a "failure."
In an interview with Le Figaro newspaper, Sarkozy said that as interior minister, he had information showing the protests were radicalizing, and "that alerted and concerned me."
A replacement bill was filed Monday. In a fast-track scenario, the four-point measure could be passed by both houses by the end of the week, before parliament's spring recess.
The new bill, which expands on several measures already in place, increases the government's role in the workplace instead of decreasing it, as Villepin wanted. Some 160,000 youths would be touched by the measures this year, at a cost of $180 million to the state.