Jospin turns the heat on protesters

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The Independent Online
French police at the weekend broke up sit-ins in dole offices by unemployment protest groups, which have shaken Lionel Jospin's left- of-centre coalition government.

But further protests are expected throughout France this week, including a march through Paris tomorrow.

After flattering the demonstrators and offering them a pounds 100m emergency fund for "acute cases" on Friday, Mr Jospin took out the big stick on Saturday. The riot police, the CRS, moved in from dawn to clear protesters from a score of offices belonging to the employment insurance agency, Unedic.

This combination of conciliation and toughness has come to be known in France as the "Jospin method". It successfully ended the lorry drivers' dispute in November.

But the first signs yesterday were that the Prime Minister, for the first time in seven months, had lost control of the public mood and political agenda. The parliamentary leader of the Communist Party immediately renewed the coalition squabbling which threatened to turn the dispute into a political crisis. Alain Bocquet, who opposes the Communist participation in government, berated the expulsions, which passed off peacefully, as a "serious political and human error". A poll in the newspaper Le Journal de Dimanche suggested that more than 70 per cent of French people supported the protests.

The three pressure groups for the unemployed running the campaign, supported by the Communist trade union movement, the CGT, are calling for a sharp increase in the "minimal social payments" to the long-term unemployed. Mr Jospin said last week that such increases, across the board, would bust public spending targets and destroy the government's strategy to generate growth and create new jobs.

- John Lichfield, Paris