Now the elderly protest in Paris

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The Independent Online
OUT WITH the young; in with the old. As the three-week-old demonstrations by lycee students subsided, France was confronted with a new series of street protests yesterday - by the over-60s.

About 20,000 old and late middle-aged people marched through Paris to demand higher pensions. Smaller demonstrations were held in six provincial cities. No violence was reported.

Five organisations representing retired people were complaining that the left-of-centre government of Lionel Jospin has forgotten its election pledge to boost the living standards of the old. They point out that the purchasing power of state pensions has fallen by 10 per cent in the past 12 years.

In the meantime, the student demonstrations have fallen away. The teenagers, aged 16 to 18, had been protesting against large classes, crumbling school buildings, a shortage of teachers, cancelled courses and an excessive work schedule. On Wednesday, the education minister, Claude Allegre, announced a "plan of immediate action".

He promised pounds 400m in interest-free loans to upgrade school buildings and equipment; a reduction of workloads in some subjects; the creation of 14,000auxiliary posts in lycees; and more participation by students in decision-making in schools.

It remains to be seen whether the student movement will be satisfied with his plans or whether the demonstrations will resume on Tuesday week, after the school holiday. Crucially, Mr Allegre refused to create any new teaching posts. He argues that France is well-supplied with teachers. The problem is that the over-centralised education system, partly administered by teaching unions, means that teachers are often in the wrong places.

The unions have supported the student protests; Mr Allegre has been trying to persuade the protesting pupils that their real interests lie with his reforms, and not with the teachers.

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