Sun, Mar 12, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Police storm the Sorbonne to oust protesters

AP , PARIS

Students hurl chairs and tables at riot police as they attempt to storm the Sorbonne University in Paris yesterday, where hundreds of students were holed up.

PHOTO: AFP

Riot police stormed the Sorbonne University early yesterday, pushing out some 200 students occupying the historic institution, some for three days, to protest a government jobs plan.

At least 80 police officers rushed the landmark institution to dislodge students, some holed up in a classroom barricaded behind desks, chairs and debris. Police acted on a demand from the rector of the Paris Academy which runs the university, moving in at 3:45am, police said.

Two people were injured, a student who fell and a photographer hit by a projectile, a statement by Paris police headquarters said.

LCI television reported that scores of students who fled the Sorbonne broke windows of a fast-food restaurant. Twenty-seven were arrested, it reported.

The disturbances were part of snowballing protests over a new jobs measure that are posing a major test to the government. Up to 600 students were reportedly in the Sorbonne on Friday, joining a sit-in that began on Wednesday. The university was forced to close.

The occupation at the Sorbonne was part of a larger movement by students, along with unions, trying to force the government to withdraw the jobs measure that will make it easier for companies to fire workers younger than 26.

The government hopes the flexibility will spur employers to hire young people, safe in the knowledge that they will be able to get rid of them if necessary.

Critics, however, say it would offer younger workers less job security than older colleagues and undermine France's generous labor protections.

Police moved calmly in a block through the halls of the Sorbonne entering from a back door. They punched through the boarded up classroom and blocked projectiles with their shields.

The majority of students gathered in an inner courtyard, lining up on the steps of a chapel at one end. They were surrounded and moved out of the main entrance of the university without force but with sprays of tear gas.

When police arrived, protesters decided to stick together "as a symbol," said a third-year student in the building since Wednesday who identified herself only as Elodie.

"Everyone tried to be hyper-responsible of the place because we know it is our national patrimony," she said.

She said the situation degenerated when hundreds of others joined the core group of some 80 occupiers on Friday. The demonstration intensified late on Friday with protesters hurling ladders, chairs, a fire hydrant and other objects from a window toward police outside. Police responded with tear gas.

An administrator said the protesters wanted to turn the school into "a battlefield," not only against the jobs measure "but against all of the social problems" France faces.

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