Student protest ends in violence

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The Independent Online
SCATTERED INCIDENTS of violence, including the overturning of cars and smashing of shop windows in Paris, yesterday scarred the biggest day of protests so far in a 12-day-old revolt by French lycee students.

Thirteen young people were arrested in the capital after a march by 10,000 teenagers, protesting against poor school conditions, ended in vandalism and clashes with police. Student leaders insisted that the main march passed off peacefully and blamed the violence on groups of other youths who had come looking for trouble.

There were also outbreaks of window-smashing after marches by students - the equivalent of sixth-formers - in Saint-Etienne, Thionville and Mulhouse. Demonstrations in other French cities, from Bordeaux to Brittany, passed off amicably.

The students are complaining about a shortage of teachers, the cancellation of some courses, overcrowding (classes of up to 40 pupils for complex subjects), the lack of sports, poor school buildings and excessively long hours.

The Education Minister, Claude Allegre, tried to defuse the protests at the weekend by calling the heads of local school districts to an emergency meeting in Paris. He promised action, especially the filling of vacant teaching posts, for the restart of school after the 10-day autumn holiday at the end of this month.

The minister said yesterday that he understood the reasons for the students' anger "but I am not a magician and cannot deliver everything at once".

Mr Allegre called for radical reform of the lycee system last year and polled all the country's students for their views. His failure to deliver changes promptly provoked the protests, which began 12 days ago in Nimes in the south.