Students Return to Classes at Sorbonne University

Students returned to classes past police vans Monday as the landmark Sorbonne University in Paris reopened after being closed for six weeks amid protests of a youth labor law that mired France in crisis.

While universities nationwide were shut or thrown into disarray by the protests, the Sorbonne's column-lined main building on the Left Bank became a symbol of the standoff after students occupied it March 8-11 and riot police stormed in to dislodge them.

On Monday, students filed calmly past cafes lining the square in front of the university, while police remained discreetly on alert nearby for any signs that radical groups could disrupt classes.

Entrance security was stricter than usual, as only students with valid ID cards were allowed in the building. Several students who forgot their cards were turned away in frustration.

About 20 students eager to continue their protest movement gathered on the square, handing out fliers to press the government for other concessions. Nearby, a handful of students tried to block the University of Paris-Jussieu, LCI television reported.

The protests dwindled after President Jacques Chirac surrendered to students and unions April 10 and scrapped the disputed plan, which would have made it easier to hire — and fire — young workers.

The Sorbonne remained shut, however, while workers carried out $677,000 in repairs and during its regularly scheduled spring break, which ended Monday.

The university had to replace the fire alarm and repair the heating system, but its president, Jean-Robert Pitte, said the greater damage was to the school's image abroad.

During much of the protest movement, the Sorbonne's facade was barricaded behind a high metal screen where police with water cannons were entrenched. The streets outside the school remained a gathering point for protesters, who scuffled with police.

Other universities around France reopened Monday for the first time since the protests. The government minister in charge of higher education, Francois Goulard, said on France 2 television that the return to class was normal "practically everywhere."

Final exams will be delayed — most by a few weeks but in a few cases until September so that students can make up coursework, he said.

Meanwhile, new statistics show that the standoff and the government's retreat from the labor reform had little impact on French business sentiment. The indicator rose to a five-year high in April, official statistics agency Insee said Monday.