Protesting French Students Block Convoy Carrying Pieces of A380 to Factory

Students protesting a new labor law put more pressure on France's embattled government Thursday by blocking roads, trains and a convoy of airplane parts heading to the factory that builds the crown jewel of European aviation, Airbus' A380 superjumbo.

Before dawn, about 100 students burst onto a highway in southwest France as trucks carrying A380 parts approached the factory outside Toulouse. The overnight protest was calm, but it blocked the delivery for about two and a half hours, police said.

Since Tuesday's massive nationwide street demonstrations that drew between 1 million and 3 million protesters, students are increasingly using wildcat disruptions as they try to force the government to repeal a law that will make it easier to hire and fire young people.

Demonstrators burst onto rail tracks at two Paris train stations Thursday. Police in riot gear pushed them back.

Protesters also slowed traffic around Paris' Orly airport, forcing some harried travelers to drag their luggage on foot.

Many universities have been disrupted or entirely shut down for weeks. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin - whose standing has been badly damaged by the standoff - appealed for an end to protests.

"The immediate priority, as we all know, is restoring calm. It is time to get out of the crisis and rediscover the serenity and unity of the whole country," he said, adding that classes should resume.

Villepin also tried to quash speculation about whether he would resign, insisting he would carry his battle against chronic unemployment "through to the end."

Unions and ruling party lawmakers were in talks about the jobs law for a second day Thursday. Unions stressed that they would not drop their demand that parliament scrap the law. On Wednesday, they issued an ultimatum: repeal the law by April 15 or face more massive mayhem.

Villepin championed the law to stem youth unemployment rates of 22 percent, and as high as 50 percent in some depressed, heavily immigrant suburbs hit by weeks of riots last year. Unions are angry that Villepin pushed it through quickly, without consulting them.

"I wanted to go quickly, it's true, simply because I want results," Villepin said Thursday.

The law is designed to untangle France's rigid labor market and reduce high youth unemployment by making it easier for companies to hire - and fire - workers under age 26. Opponents fear it is the beginning of a chipping away of France's cherished labor protections.

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