[JURIST] French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin [official profile] said Thursday he was open to all proposals for resolving the month-long standoff with students and labor unions over the law [JURIST document] establishing the First Employment Contract (contrat premiere embauche, CPE) [JURIST news archive], but gave no indication that he was going to withdraw the legislation as critics have demanded. Speaking at his monthly press conference [transcript, in French; recorded video], de Villepin, who has seen his popularity slide in the face of his defense of the CPE, insisted that he would not resign, and that "The president of the republic has entrusted me with a mission and I shall conduct this mission to its conclusion." French President Jacques Chirac signed the CPE legislation into law over the weekend after suggesting in a televised address [JURIST video] the government would compromise on a number of key terms. The government has also asked French employers to refrain from entering into CPE contracts until amendments are made. The measure is part of a larger legislative package designed to lower French unemployment rates which have lately reached up to 22% among French youth.
Meanwhile protests against the law continue. On Tuesday, crowds estimated at between 1 and 3 million again took the streets of several French cities to protest the legislation [JURIST report], which currently creates an age-based exception to traditional French labor regulations by allowing workers who were under 26 years of age at the time of hiring to be fired without cause at any time during the first two years of their employment. BBC News has more.