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In Photos: Students In France Close Down Schools and Clash With Police During Labor Protests

Students fear the government's proposed changes will make workers more vulnerable, even as the country continues to struggle with a high unemployment rate.
Pierre Longeray
Paris, FR
Imagen por Etienne Rouillon/VICE News

The French government was forced to review its controversial labor reform bill earlier this week, but still failed to convince many of the country's high school and college students, who took to the streets again Thursday to voice their anger over the proposed measures.

According to France's ministry of education, 115 schools across the country were closed Thursday, versus 90 during last week's protests — a sign the movement is gaining momentum.


From Marseille to Clermont-Ferrand, via Lyon and Tours, thousands of young people took part in protests that remained, for the most part, peaceful — but erupted in volence in Paris. Clashes were also reported in the northwestern city of Rennes, where demonstrators briefly occupied the train station, before lying down on the tracks to stop traffic.

In Paris, high school students marched from Place de la Nation to Place de la République, in the east of the French capital.

Hundreds of protesters — most of them high school students — converged on Place de la République square, in Paris, on Thursday morning. (Photo by Etienne Rouillon/VICE News)

After leaving Place de la Nation at around 11am, thousands of high school students walked down Boulevard Voltaire brandishing signs saying, "Night is for fucking, not for working," and "Voldemort himself would have said no [to the labor law]."

Minutes after the procession set off, a small group of people joined the protest and started vandalizing storefronts along the way. They also hurled objects at the police officers monitoring the protest.

Many of the protesters were there to demonstrate peacefully against the labor law reform bill, also known as the El Khomri law after French Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri. (Photo by Etienne Rouillon/VICE News)

Shortly before noon, riot police buses were used to block the road, prompting those at the start of the procession to throw stones, glass bottles, chairs, wooden slats and pieces of broken crockery at the police.

For nearly half an hour, dozens of masked youth took over the front of the procession, clashing with riot police officers. During the standoff, one police officer was accidentally hit by a car after the driver failed to notice the roadblock.

Towards the end of the morning, a small group of vandals came to the front of the procession and clashed with police on Boulevard Voltaire. (Photo by Etienne Rouillon/VICE News)

Riot police officers briefly stopped the procession. (Photo by Etienne Rouillon/VICE News)

A young man runs towards the police cordon brandishing a stick. (Photo by Etienne Rouillon/VICE News)

A man advances towards the police cordon holding a glass bottle. (Photo by Etienne Rouillon/VICE News)

Plainclothes police officers were dispatched to the area to help restore order. The police acted forcefully, searching people and releasing most of them almost immediately.


A police source told AFP that officers had made three arrests in Paris, including arrests for vandalism.

A group of plainclothes police officers run to the front of the procession. (Photo by Etienne Rouillon/VICE News)

Police officers pick up projectiles from the street and gather them in a shopping cart after dispersing a crowd of rioters who were throwing stones and bottles at them. (Photo by Etienne Rouillon/VICE News)

"It's sort of a shame, the protest started off with good intentions," explained Martial, a 10th grade student who gave only his first name. "These clashes distort the message somewhat."

"My father is an occasional worker in the cultural industry so I can see how difficult it is to work in France," said the young man, who wants to see the new law shelved. Among the measures he doesn't like, longer working days and the capping of compensation awarded by employment tribunals — the latter absent from the latest version of the law, which was unveiled Monday by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

The procession was able to set off again around noon, with teachers from the SUD teachers' union stepping in to prevent any further clashes. With portable speakers blasting out dubstep, some of the protesters broke out into a rendition of the Marseillaise while others chanted, "Because we can't take any more, the youth are in the streets."

"This law is problematic for us in the short term," said Celestin, 14, as he informed drivers that the road was blocked. "Our teachers don't really talk to us about it, but we discussed it among ourselves and we decided it was important to protest. I think people will continue to mobilize, if the law is not improved," he said.

Protesters continued to march on Place de la République with a security escort to join other protesting students. (Photo by Etienne Rouillon/VICE News)

Around 1:30pm, the high-schoolers arrived at Place de la République, joining the college students and unions who were already gathered there for the general demonstration. Around 2:30pm, the protesters marched on Place d'Italie square, in the southeast of the capital.

The bill will be presented to ministers on March 24, and another protest involving the unions has been scheduled for March 31.

Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: @PLongeray

Follow Étienne Rouillon on Twitter: @rouillonetienne

This article originally appeared on VICE News' French edition.