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French government survives no-confidence vote as protesters clash with police over labor reform

Paris' Socialist Cabinet would have been forced to resign if only 42 more members in France's National Assembly had voted against reforms intended to create jobs and stifle unemployment.

By Doug G. Ware
French government survives no-confidence vote as protesters clash with police over labor reform
French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday pushed through controversial changes to the country's labor laws that are intended to stifle unemployment and create jobs. Hollande used executive powers to implement the changes, not a parliamentary vote. A motion to defeat the changes Thursday was defeated in the National Assembly. File Photo by Dennis Brack/UPI/Pool | License Photo

PARIS, May 12 (UPI) -- The government in Paris on Thursday narrowly dodged a vote of no-confidence arranged by France's main opposition party over recent controversial reforms made to the nation's labor laws.

The right-of-center opposition party, Les Republicans, pushed for the referendum, which required 288 votes to repeal the reforms and effectively topple the Socialist government. Instead, they got only 246 in the National Assembly -- 42 shy of the goal -- almost exactly what analysts expected.

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Among the controversial aspects of the reforms is the fact that French President Francois Hollande approved them with executive powers, not parliamentary approval. Hollande used a rare tactic to push the changes through, but one that allowed lawmakers to challenge it with a motion of censure

"Pursuing the debate in Parliament would pose the risk of... abandoning the compromise that we have built," Prime Minister Manuel Valls told Parliament.

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Around 50,000 protesters marched in Paris on Thursday, as the vote took place, to demonstrate against the controversial labor reforms executed by Hollande and backed by Valls -- which some say are too pro-business and not pro-worker enough.

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The new changes make it easier for employers to hire and fire workers, but critics worry they will also give companies more room to deny workers' rights on pay, overtime and breaks. The government's intention with the reforms is to create jobs by making the labor market more flexible. Unemployment in France is currently around 10 percent.

Another part of the changes impacts the number of hours per week employees work. Under the new law, the average work week is 35 hours but it allows companies to negotiate with labor unions on more or less, with a ceiling of 46 hours per week.

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If Thursday's opposition vote had attained 288 votes, the law would have been junked and the French Cabinet forced to resign. Hollande then would have had to form a new executive body.

Some protesters demanded Hollande's resignation and tangled with riot police into Thursday evening. Demonstrations also happened in Nantes and Toulouse.

Police said officers were "attacked with Molotov cocktails, bottles, stones, and projectiles at them".

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"These were accompanied by insults and anti-cop slogans," authorities added.

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