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Tear gas, scuffles mar latest Paris anti-labour reforms protest

38711607 - 15_06_2016 - FRANCE-ECONOMY-LABOUR-REFORM-DEMO.jpg
A masked person holds a torch as he demonstrates during a protest against proposed labour reforms in Paris. French police fired tear gas at stone-throwing protesters on Tuesday during the latest march against the Socialist government's labour reforms.

[PARIS] French police fired tear gas at stone-throwing protesters on Tuesday during the latest march in Paris against the Socialist government's labour reforms.

Hours after the tense march held under tight security, the right-dominated Senate approved its version of the hotly contested legislation aimed at reining in unemployment by freeing up the job market.

Police made 38 arrests, including 27 people who were prevented from marching mainly because they were carrying potential projectiles.

Minor scuffles were reported during this 11th demonstration against the reforms since a wave of protests began on March 9.

Many have descended into violence, reaching a peak in Paris on June 14, just four days after the start of the Euro 2016 football championships in France, when around 40 people were hurt and dozens were arrested.

On Tuesday, some 2,500 riot police were deployed for a crowd estimated by police at between 14,000 and 15,000 people, while organisers put the figure at 55,000.

Dozens of protests and other actions were also held elsewhere in France.

Seven unions meanwhile submitted what they called partial results from a public survey on the draft labour law, with 92 per cent of 700,000 respondents calling for its withdrawal.

French President Francois Hollande said last week that his Socialist government would "go all the way" to enact the reforms, which are seen by critics as too pro-business and a threat to cherished workers' rights.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls will meet union leaders on Wednesday and Thursday but has already signalled he is not open to further modifying a text that has already been watered down.

Mr Valls, who has been a lightning rod for criticism because of his unrelenting stance on the reforms, conceded little by agreeing to the meetings.

The prime minister's office said "it is not a matter of reopening a cycle of negotiations".

Philippe Martinez, secretary general of the hardline CGT union, said he hoped the meeting would not be a mere "courtesy call just to have a coffee".

Unions say the main sticking point is a measure giving precedence to agreements negotiated between companies and their staff over deals reached with unions across entire industrial sectors - notably on working hours.

The two sides have not met since early March, although Mr Valls telephoned union leaders on May 28.

The Senate's version of the labour reform bill is tougher on workers' rights than a version that was forced through the National Assembly without a vote last month.

Although the lower house is dominated by Socialists, the left flank of the party is staunchly opposed to the labour reforms, and the government decided not to risk a vote, using a constitutional manoeuvre to get the bill through.

The Senate bill, approved by a vote of 185 to 156, would scrap the 35-hour work week and restore a cap on the amount employers would have to pay out when they lose labour disputes.

The legislation will now return to the National Assembly on July 5 - which is already on the CGT's calendar for another protest.

With the two chambers unlikely to agree a final version, the lower house will have the final say, and the government is expected to circumvent a vote there once again.

According to an opinion poll published on Tuesday, 73 per cent of the French would be "shocked" by such a move.

Mr Hollande, who faces a re-election bid next April, had hoped for a signature reform to reverse his dire approval ratings.

But pressure from the street, as well as parliament's back benches, caused the government to water down the proposals, which only angered bosses while failing to assuage critics.