PARIS Hundreds of thousands of workers and high-school students joined protest marches across France on Wednesday to challenge plans to loosen the country’s protective labor laws that unions say favor businesses.
The day of protest — which led to scores of arrests as youths and police clashed in Paris, Lyon and Nantes — marked the fourth such test of strength in a month for President Francois Hollande.
He has been plagued by low popularity and a jobless rate that is stuck stubbornly above 10 percent little more than a year before a presidential election.
Organizers said more than 1.2 million people took part. The interior ministry put the number at just under 400,000, higher numbers — despite persistent rain — than in some other recent protests.
The three protests to date had been relatively low-key, but with rail, air traffic and utility staff among those to stop work, there was significant disruption across the country.
On Thursday, Reuters TV footage showed hooded youths in Paris jumping on cars, taunting police and throwing projectiles, prompting riot police to charge some groups. Reuters reporters also witnessed clashes in France’s second city Lyon and in Nantes.
Police arrested more than 100 people and at least 13 officers were injured, the interior ministry said.
Unions said they planned further rallies on April 5 and 9 with the hardline CGT union saying the protests would not end until the draft labor bill was withdrawn entirely.
“Small employees are treated like dirt, we’ve had enough, (and) it’s Hollande who pretends to represent the left,” said Jean-Luc Gutel, a CGT representative who works in the delivery service in Paris.
“The youth are told to study for years, but what for?”
State railway SNCF said stoppages among its staff had cut some services by 40 to 50 percent on Thursday. About one in five flights were canceled at Orly airport…