Sarkozy fears revolt as two million march across France

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The Independent Online

President Nicolas Sarkozy was facing the prospect of a deepening social and political revolt yesterday after more than two million people took to the streets to protest against his handling of the global recession.

French trades unions succeeded in mobilising even more protesters than for their previous, impressive show of strength in late January. A day of strikes in the public and private sectors did not bring the country to a halt but disrupted transport, schools and government offices, newspapers and radio stations and some factories.

M. Sarkozy is known to be worried that a lingering and hot-tempered dispute over university reforms could merge with the anger generated by the recession to create the kind of April-May street revolt that France has known in the past, notably in 1968.

Yesterday's protests in 200 towns and cities, including a raucous march by about 350,000 people in Paris, passed off peacefully apart from the usual end-of-demo vandalism and missile-throwing by a minority. Police made 300 arrests last night after running battles with hooded youths.

Judging by the faces and voices in the Paris march, the challenge to M. Sarkozy is coming not just from a hot-headed fringe, or from the usual suspects of the left, but from a groundswell of anger and fear among ordinary people. Nathalie Brisac, 48, a teacher training instructor, said: "I have never attended a demonstration before. There is no point in protesting against the recession, but we can demand fairness in the way the government responds to it: less money for bankers and more for ordinary people."

A poll suggested the protests were supported by 74 per cent of French voters. With unemployment over two million, the unions want M. Sarkozy to protect jobs, boost wages and scrap his 50 per cent tax "ceiling".