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Police Storm Sorbonne to Dislodge Students

Paul Duke, AP | March 11 2006

PARIS -- Police stormed France's famed Sorbonne University early Saturday to dislodge students occupying the building in protest of a new national employment measure, hours after the demonstrators hurled furniture and ladders from the landmark's windows.

About 80 helmeted riot officers moved into an inner courtyard under the dome of the centuries-old building and, after a brief standoff, forced them out. About 600 students had entered the building earlier to join a sit-in that began Wednesday.

The students, along with the country's powerful unions and other protesters in recent weeks, are trying to force the government to withdraw the measure that would make it easier for companies to fire workers younger than 26.

The government hopes the flexibility will spur employers to hire young people, safe in the knowledge that they will be able to get rid of them if they have to.

Critics say it would offer younger workers less job security than older colleagues and undermine France's generous labor protections.

The Sorbonne protesters had clambered in through windows after breaking through police lines to join the small group holding the sit-in, said university administrators.

The mass occupation followed confrontations between protesters and police ringing the building, which was forced to close.

"Liberate the Sorbonne," students shouted.

By late Friday night, small symbolic barricades made from streets signs and other objects were erected on the main thoroughfare, the Boulevard Saint Michel, blocked to traffic by police.

Students inside the school pitched objects from windows, including ladders, chairs and fire extinguishers in the direction of dozens of huddling and helmeted police who responded with tear gas, with several hundred students inside by the time police stormed the building.

Police entered the main building of the Sorbonne from a back door, moved into a room facing the courtyard, chasing students out. Students had used chairs and desks in a failed effort to block police. Many then apparently took refuge in the courtyard and were eventually chased from the building onto the street.

A school administrator, Nicolas Boudot, said the protesters wanted to turn the university into "a battlefield," not only against the jobs measure "but also against all of the social problems" that France is facing.

In Tours, 125 miles southwest of Paris, several hundred students moved onto tracks at the railway station, stopping trains for three hours Friday, the SNCF rail operator said.

Students picketed entrances at several of the country's more than 80 universities. The main students' union said 45 colleges were affected, but the Education Ministry said eight universities were strikebound and that 26 others were affected to various degrees.

"It's about our future, and we are determined not to give up," said Elisa Penisson, a 21-year old undergraduate majoring in French literature at the Sorbonne.

Ulrich Ngoua, a 30-year-old Gabonese man pursuing a doctorate in philosophy, accused the students of having "taken the Sorbonne hostage for their cause."

The bill passed its final legislative hurdle Thursday. The government says it could go into effect in April.

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