Paris student march turns to mayhem

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THOUSANDS of students marched to celebrate victory over Prime Minister Edouard Balladur's youth wage law yesterday, but the rally degenerated into a rampage by rioters who stoned police, burned cars, beat journalists and smashed windows.

Forty-eight policemen were injured, including seven who were sent to hospital, in an outbreak of violence that lasted five hours and spread through a large patch of the capital, police said.

Some 15 cars were set on fire and more than 200 were damaged, they said. Rioters shattered the windows of some 60 shops and about a dozen were pillaged. About 300 people were detained.

Police, whose estimates are always low, said 20,000 took part in the demonstration from the Bastille to the Place Denfert-Rochereau in the south of the city. Several hundred casseurs - wreckers - destroyed telephone booths and bus- shelters, and looted a car-radio showroom. The casseurs are generally acknowledged to be disaffected youths from the poor suburbs who use legal demonstrations as a pretext for violence.

''Why don't you shoot at them? Why do you just stand there when you see them smashing things up?' shouted one middle-aged bystander. Other marches were held in the provinces but there were no reports of serious incidents.

Yesterday's march through the capital also turned into a demonstration calling for the release of youngsters detained during earlier protests and for the return of two Algerians expelled last week after being accused of violence during a demonstration in Lyons. Although a court said the Lyons police chief had exceeded his authority by not allowing the regular court procedure to run its course, the Interior Ministry has stood by him and refused to allow the Algerians' return.

On Wednesday, Edouard Balladur, the Gaullist Prime Minister, withdrew the Contrat d'Insertion Professionnelle (CIP), which would have allowed employers to pay under-26-year-olds, who suffer a 23 per cent unemployment rate, 20 per cent less than the minimum wage.

The measure, intended to encourage youth employment, was interpreted as an insult by the young. Student organisations decided not to cancel their demonstrations already set for yesterday, saying they would mark their victory over the government.

A month of protests has badly tarnished the image of Mr Balladur, whose standing in one opinion poll this week dropped lower than that of the Socialist President, Francois Mitterrand, for the first time since he took over the government a year ago. His climb-down over the CIP added to several other retreats when faced with street-level protests.

But Mr Balladur is still rated the best-placed politician to become president in the May 1995 elections. His most serious opposition comes from his own camp, where many in his Gaullist RPR party fear he has upstaged Jacques Chirac, the party president and the semi-official RPR candidate for the Elysee Palace.

An example of the pressures Mr Balladur faces came yesterday from Philippe Seguin, the Gaullist president of the National Assembly and the leader of the campaign against ratification of the Maastricht treaty.

Mr Seguin, looking increasingly like a presidential candidate as the more established figures fade in public opinion, said measures announced to cut the 3.3 million unemployment figure would not create the 500,000 jobs claimed but only 10,000 to 15,000. Described as the 'counter-power', Mr Seguin has increasingly seized on Mr Balladur's difficulties to promote his own view that France needs an 'alternative' form of government.

(Photograph omitted)