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France announces aid to youths to defuse ‘Up All Night’ tensions

French university student union UNEF President William Martinet and UNEF's General Delegate Lilia Le Bas leave the Hotel Matignon in Paris, France, after a meeting on the labour law proposal

The French government announced about half a billion euros in aid for students on Monday in an attempt to defuse anger from protesters who said they would gather again on a central Paris square for the 12th night in a row.

The ‘Nuit Debout'(Up All Night) movement has brought thousands of young mainly left-wing voters to the Place de la Republique, venting their frustration against various policies of President Francois Hollande’s socialist government.

Street protests that initially started against a draft labour reform bill, have broadened out to other issues.

“The government is listening. It understands the youths’ worries,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told student organisations, announcing subsidies for young graduates looking for a job and other aid for apprentices and students, worth a total of 400 million euros-500 million euros.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri attend a meeting with student union leaders on the labour law proposal at Hotel Matignon in Paris
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri attend a meeting with student union leaders on the labour law proposal at Hotel Matignon in Paris

Just hours before Valls met youth and student leaders to try to defuse tensions, police moved along about a hundred ‘Nuit Debout’ protesters remaining on the Place de la Republique without incidents.

Police also cleared out huts and improvised vegetable gardens but plans for fresh protests on Monday night were immediately announced.

“Our garden, our libraries, our huts… You can destroy all that but you cannot destroy our dreams,” a tweet from the movement said, showing a picture of the square being cleared out.

While more traditional protests against labour reforms have been organised by student organisations and labour unions, the ‘Nuit Debout’ movement has no clearly identified leaders.

The movement has its own TV and has drawn comparisons with Spain’s Indignados movement, which swept through Spain five years ago when thousands of mostly young Spaniards camped out in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol central square.

With the protests against labour reform losing some steam after it was watered down, it is unclear whether the ‘Nuit Debout’ movement will keep bringing in the crowds.

The leader of France’s main student organisation UNEF William Martinet said he was happy with the proposals Valls made but would keep backing protests against the labour reform.

The planned labour bill seeks to introduce new flexibility in areas such as working time and industrial tribunal payouts, as part of reforms designed to make good on promises by Hollande to bring down unemployment.

In response to the protests, lawmakers have already watered down the bill, notably by changing an initially proposed cap on industrial tribunal payouts to a non-binding guideline.

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