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France

French far left and unions protest Socialist austerity plans

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Paris, protesting the new economic reforms put forward by Francois Hollande's center-left government. The policy-change followed a local election drubbing.

Protesters carried banners with slogans like "Enough, Hollande!" or the pictured placard saying "when you are on the left, you are on the side of employees." The demonstrations were called by French trade unions and two leftist parties in response to new Prime Minister Manuel Valls' tax breaks and austerity measures from the French government.

Parisian police put the turnout for the protests at around 25,000 people, while the French Communist Party said on their Facebook account that 100,000 took part. Smaller protests took place around the country, with an estimated 1,600 turning out in the southern city of Marseille.

Greece's leading opposition politician, Alexis Tsipras of the Syriza coalition, marched alongside Pierre Laurent of the French communists and the leftist party's Jean-Luc Melenchon. Tsipras is the lead candidate for EU leftists' bloc in this year's European Parliament elections.

Fresh policies after electoral let-down

New Prime Minister Valls, who replaced Jean-Marc Ayrault after the Socialists' disappointing showing in municipal elections last month, announced tax and spending cuts on Tuesday - saying he would bring France's annual budget deficit in line with EU targets by 2015.

The proposal for a "responsibility pact" from President Francois Hollande, which would cut the social charges paid by French companies by around 30 billion euros ($41.6 billion), was met with particular criticism.

"A 30 billion gift to big business is something monstrous in the period of austerity we live in," Left Party leader Melenchon said in an interview on RTL radio.

Although popular nationwide, especially with voters deserting Hollande's Socialists for the conservative UMP or the far-right National Front, new Prime Minister Valls is seen as a centrist influence within Hollande's party. The former interior minister is therefore an unpopular appointment among the parties to the left of the government. The new economic policies also mark something of a departure from Hollande's presidential election campaign, when he pledged to work for less focus on spending cuts and more on economic stimulus in the debt-laden eurozone.

Polls suggest that Hollande's Socialists could fare even worse in next month's European elections; they are currently polling below both the UMP and the National Front.

msh/kms (AFP, Reuters)

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