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French Labor Protests: Tear Gas Used In Paris; Truckers Block Highways

French riot police clash with protesters during a demonstration in Bordeaux on Tuesday as the French government pushed ahead with a controversial labor bill. The legislation has sparked two months of street protests.

Riot police in Paris used water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters who had hurled rocks and other objects at officers. Truckers blocked roadways and railroad workers joined the strikes.

Here's the big issue — French leaders say they have to make their country's economy more flexible, competitive and productive. To do that, they say they need to end some long-standing worker protections. Legislation that's moving forward would make it easier for employers to hire and fire workers. Truck drivers would also see their overtime pay cut. As NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reported for our Newscast unit:

"Truckers are vehemently opposed to the labor reform bill, which would reduce their overtime pay from 150 percent to 110 percent of their regular salary. Dockworkers, rail workers, postal workers and air traffic controllers will join in before the week is over."

The work-rule overhaul bill has cleared the lower house of Parliament and will likely be cleared by the Senate in June.

Critics of the bill say would be a giant step backward for workers' rights and social progress.

French President Francois Hollande's popularity has plummeted due to his support for the changes in labor policy. Despite that, the 61-year-old Socialist leader told Europe 1 Radio, "I will not give in."

Hollande says loosening France's rigid labor code will help the economy and job creation.

Meanwhile, the protests this week continue. Hollande said 1,000 people have been arrested and more than 300 police injured during the sporadic clashes that have spanned the past few months.

The French Interior Ministry says some 68,000 people took part in demonstrations on Tuesday. That's a much smaller number than the 390,000 people who turned out in March.

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