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French students protest at hundreds of schools for 'Black Tuesday'

Benoit Tessier, Reuters | Students and high school students face off with French police during a demonstration to protest against the French government's reform plan, in Paris, December 11, 2018. The slogan reads "Macron backs off".

Students protested in hundreds of French high schools on Tuesday, following on from the Yellow Vest protesters who have taken to the streets of Paris over four successive weekends. The students' demonstrations were quieter than expected.

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According to figures obtained by Reuters, 450 schools were affected by the demonstrations on Tuesday while France’s education ministry said that 60 high schools were completely shut down for "Black Tuesday", as the UNL union of secondary school students called the protests.

Up to 300 French high schools, known as lycées, were barricaded every day last week amid scenes of vandalism, bins set on fire, and violent clashes between police and students. The tense stand-off made international headlines on Thursday when video footage posted on social media showed riot police in a Paris suburb forcing dozens of students to kneel in rows, their hands on their heads.

>> Outcry as French police round up protesting high-school students

The students have been angered by President Emmanuel Macron's plans to change the end-of-school exam, known as the baccalaureate or "Bac’", and replace the broad subjects pupils currently choose from – science, literature or social sciences – with more specific courses.

Students are also demanding the repeal of a reform, passed last year, which introduces stricter selection criteria for admission to universities. Critics say the government’s moves breed inequality between rich schools and poorer, peripheral ones. They also oppose plans for a mandatory national civil service programme for French youths, due to be rolled out in 2026.

FRANCE 24's Nadia Massih reports from student protests

In addition to protesting at their schools, student demonstrators marched to the education ministry in central Paris on Tuesday. They reached the street where the ministry is located, but “police weren’t letting the students go any further”, FRANCE 24 journalist Nadia Massih reported from the scene.

“So the demonstrators turned around, and we saw dozens of students getting down on their knees and putting their hands behind their heads – an echo of what we saw last week,” Massih continued.

“We will continue protesting until our demands are met,” Jules Spector, head of the FIDL union, told FRANCE 24 on Monday. “The government has made no gestures towards us,” he added. “On the contrary, it is obvious they are waiting for the end of term to slow down our movement.”

According to Massih, although the student demonstrations have followed weeks of protests over fuel prices, stagnant wages and Macron’s overall reform agenda, “The really important point that we’ve been hearing from students is that they are not the Yellow Vests – they want to say that, while their anger and frustrations are similar to those of that movement, their goals are very different.”

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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