French prime minister admits errors in handling jobs law

By wire services
Published April 2, 2006

PARIS - Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said in a newspaper interview to be published today that he was misunderstood and made errors in his management of a hotly contested youth labor law that sent 1-million protesting students and union members into the streets.

He denied, however, that he has been disavowed by President Jacques Chirac, who, in the hope of restoring calm, ordered up a new, softer version of the law meant to make it easier to fire young workers.

Instead, Chirac's move appears to have fed his opponents' ardor. Unions and students planned a new day of strikes and protests Tuesday.

The strikes and violent protests appear to be taking a toll on Villepin, the author of the new law.

His measure was aimed at encouraging companies to hire workers under 26 by making it easier to fire them.

In a national television address Friday night, Chirac offered to modify two key elements of the law, reducing a trial period from two years to one and requiring employers to provide an explanation if an employee is fired.

Villepin has fought relentlessly to keep the law alive, and was criticized for being intransigent.

"There is misunderstanding and incomprehension about the direction of my action. I profoundly regret it," he told Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper. Asked if he had made mistakes, he replied, "Of course, in all political action there is some error."

But, he added, the "main error" would have been "to do nothing against the mass unemployment in our country."

The measure is meant to cut a 22 percent unemployment rate among youths that reaches 50 percent in some poor, heavily immigrant neighborhoods.

Villepin said in the interview that, according to the national statistics agency, it would create up to 80,000 new jobs a year "for a budgetary cost of zero."

Asked if he might resign, Villepin said; "I'm not a man to give up."

Brazil targets sex tourism, arrests 118 foreigners

SAO PAULO, Brazil - Cracking down on visitors who come to Brazil for sex, police raided clubs known for using call girls and strippers, detaining 118 foreigners early Saturday to discourage what authorities called "sexual tourism."

The tourists - mostly from Portugal, Spain, Italy, France and Norway - were briefly held in the northeastern city of Natal for not carrying passports or international identification cards that Brazil requires of all foreigners, police said. They were fined $76 and released.

Luiz Pereira, a federal police officer, said the country hoped the operation "will help discourage tourists who think sexual tourism is easy in Brazil."

Prostitution is legal in Brazil, but people who promote sex tourism can be charged.

Torn Thailand holds parliamentary election

BANGKOK, Thailand - Parliamentary elections today appear unlikely to end a stalemate between Thailand's defiant prime minister and his tenacious opponents, who are confronting one another in daily street protests and backroom maneuvering that are taking a political and economic toll on the country.

The election was called by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecommunications tycoon who was elected by a landslide 19-million votes in 2005. His term ends in 2010.

Opponents say Thaksin is corrupt, abuses his power and has eviscerated democratic institutions. But with a mass following among rural voters who benefit from his populist policies, Thaksin's party is almost certain of victory at the polls.

Elsewhere ...

BAHRAIN: A dhow-turned-pleasure boat that capsized Thursday in the Persian Gulf had a permit only for use as a floating restaurant, not for passenger cruises, an Interior Ministry spokesman said. The spokesman, Col. Tariq al-Hassan, also said the boat's captain, who has been detained for questioning, was not licensed to pilot the craft. The accident killed 57 people.

AFGHANISTAN: A roadside bomb wounded five U.S. troops when it hit their vehicle in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, officials said.

INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION: Brazil's first man in space floated into the international space station Saturday, accompanied by his Russian and American crew mates. American Jeffrey Williams, Russian Pavel Vinogradov and Brazilian Marcos C. Pontes entered the station after a cramped two-day journey in a Russian-built Soyuz capsule. Vinogradov and Williams will replace the current crew for six months on the orbiting station, while Pontes will return to Earth on April 9.

PAKISTAN: Pakistan has decided to relocate a quake-devastated city after experts declared any new construction dangerous, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said Saturday. Balakot, with a population of 300,000 people, was destroyed when the 7.6-magnitude quake hit the country on Oct. 8.