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Chirac Says He Will Sign Modified Youth-Jobs Law

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Eleanor Beardsley has the story from Paris.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Chirac spoke to the French people on national television, saying that it was time to an end an untenable situation. He said his decision on how to handle the crisis was fair and just, and kept the country's national interest in mind.

JACQUES CHIRAC: (Through translator) The parliament and the country's elected officials voted on this law and the Constitutional Council has just upheld it. In a democracy, this means something and must be respected. That's why I have decided to promulgate the law.

BEARDSLEY: Andre Caspit(ph), history professor at the Sorbonne University, says he doesn't think this speech will be enough to end the crisis.

ANDRE CASPIT: I think it's too late. The compromise would have been all right, I would say two or three weeks ago, but right now I'm not sure that a compromise will be enough.

BEARDSLEY: During the last month, the fight over the law has consumed France, closing schools and universities, filling the streets with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators and monopolizing public debate. It has become a symbol for everyone's struggle of the government versus the street, of the revival of the political left, of youth resistance to authority and of France holding on to its cherished social protections in a world of encroaching globalization. Economic historian Jacques Marseille says the uproar really had nothing to do with the new law.

JACQUES MARSEILLE: (Through Translator) This situation is the culmination of several years of total incomprehension between the left, which has not wholly embraced the free market system, and the right, which backs down in front of every reform. We're in an explosive situation where part of France says no to everything now.

BEARDSLEY: All day today the country seemed to be on tenterhooks waiting for Chirac's decision on how to deal with the crisis.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

BEARDSLEY: Unidentified Woman: (Speaking French)

BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.