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Legal news from Monday, April 10, 2006




Democrats going to court for GOP answers on New Hampshire phone jamming
Katerina Ossenova on April 10, 2006 7:31 PM ET

[JURIST] Democrats will ask a federal judge Tuesday to order Republican Party and White House officials to answer questions in response to a civil lawsuit alleging voter fraud committed during the 2002 New Hampshire phone jamming plot [Wikipedia backgrounder]. During the trial of James Tobin [SourceWatch profile], President Bush's 2004 campaign chairman for New England who was convicted [US DOJ statement] of two counts related to telephone harassment for his role [JURIST report] in the plan to jam Democrats' phone lines during a get-out-the-vote drive, the US Justice Department used exhibits to show that the leaders in the plot had regular contact with the White House and the Republican Party as the plan progressed. An analysis of the phone records used in Tobin's criminal trial show that he made 115 outgoing calls to the same White House political affairs office during the three day period around Election Day 2002. The Republican National Committee, which spent over $722,000 [JURIST report] on lawyers to defend Tobin, said he had committed no crime.

Several key figures in the scheme to jam the phone lines have already received prison time. Allen Raymond, former president of Republican consulting group GOP Marketplace, has received [JURIST report] a five month sentence for his role in a plot and Chuck McGee, the former executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party [political party website], was sentenced [JURIST report] to seven months in prison and $2,000 in fines. McGee admitted that he had paid a Virginia telemarketing company more than $15,000 in a scheme to jam Democratic Party phone lines with computer-generated calls. The election concerned was a off-term Senate race between Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Republican John Sununu [official website], who won with 51 percent of the vote. AP has more.






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NY judge orders prison time, fine for union leader of illegal transit strike
Katerina Ossenova on April 10, 2006 6:56 PM ET

[JURIST] A New York judge Monday imposed a 10-day jail sentence and a $1,000 fine for criminal contempt against transit union president Roger Toussaint [profile], who called for an illegal strike in December 2005 [Wikipedia backgrounder] that shut down New York's subways and buses. The judge will allow Toussaint to remain free for the next 30 days in order to appeal the decision; his top two deputies were also fined $500 each.

The New York City Transport Workers Union [Local 100 website; International TWU website] violated the Public Employees Fair Employment Act [text; backgrounder], a state law which prohibits state employees from striking. The strike over wages and pensions came five days before Christmas and temporarily suspended the nation's biggest mass-transit system for the first time in 25 years. A state judge imposed [JURIST report] a $1 million-per-day fine against the Union and its 33,000 members while they were on strike and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for the union to be held accountable. AP has more.






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Russia court rejects government bid to shut rights NGO
Katerina Ossenova on April 10, 2006 6:33 PM ET

[JURIST] A Moscow court ruled Monday that the Russian Human Rights Research Center [advocacy website], a major human rights umbrella group, will remain open despite increased government control over NGOs. The Russian Justice Ministry [official website, in Russian] had requested [JURIST report] that the court close down the Center based on claims that it had not filed reports on its activities in five years. After providing the court with three years of reports, Center head Valery Borshchev announced that the Basmanny District Court rejected the government's request to close the organization.

Russian NGOs have come under increased pressure since Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a controversial law [JURIST report] earlier this year granting tighter state control over non-governmental organizations. The law, previously approved by parliament [JURIST report], has been widely criticized [JURIST report] in Russia and abroad, but supporters defend the measure as necessary to prevent foreign governments and organizations from using NGOs to undermine Russia's security. The Moscow Times has more.






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US officials deny reports of planned nuclear strike on Iran installations
Jeannie Shawl on April 10, 2006 6:21 PM ET

[JURIST] US officials Monday denied [AP report] a report by Seymour Hersh published in the New Yorker that the Bush administration is drawing up plans for military strikes against Iran [JURIST news archive] that would use nuclear weapons to destroy the country's nuclear facilities and prevent Iran from gaining the capability to enrich uranium. President Bush said Monday the reports were "wild speculation" and that his goal of keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons could be accomplished through diplomacy. Iran said meanwhile that a US attack would be met with a "suitable response" [AP report]. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [official website] added that he would announce "good nuclear news" [IRNA release] within the next five days.

This is not the first time that a possible US nuclear strike against Iran has been mooted. In a February comment for JURIST, Northwestern University law professor Anthony D'Amato [faculty profile] wrote:

A combined US-Israel strike against Iran would have to employ tactical nuclear weapons, and there were signs a month or two ago that the United States was gearing up its military specialists for just such an option. As you will recall, the advance rhetoric was very hot: Iran was obtaining nuclear weapons technology, it broke the seals on yellowcake containers that had been sealed by the UN Inspection Team, it threatened to open a bourse for buying and selling oil in euros, and it announced that Israel should be wiped off the map. Unlike the case with Saddam in Iraq in 2003, Iran in 2006 has numerous long-range ballistic missiles positioned to fire at Israel, France, Germany, and American ships in the Persian Gulf, even after absorbing a surprise military attack. Its missiles are mobile, usually mounted on trucks. It would be impossible to take them out with conventional weapons. The only way to disable and destroy them would be by using above-ground "tactical" nuclear weapons, which can of course reach a wide area and destroy everything in it, especially the electronics used in launching missiles....

A military strike against Iran would involve the use of tactical nuclear weapons in the sparsely populated areas where the mobile missiles are located. As for command-and-control, the military strike undoubtedly involves precision bombing of government and military headquarters. I would predict a strike against the new bourse, perhaps on the theory that it might contain an underground military control center.

Nuclear weapons have not been used in warfare since 1945, and again it may be the United States that first uses them.
The UN Security Council is currently considering whether to impose sanctions against Iran [JURIST report] after Iran resumed parts of its uranium enrichment program last year. ABC News has more.





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Nepal pro-democracy protestors injured, arrested in fifth day of protests
Christopher G. Anderson on April 10, 2006 4:33 PM ET

[JURIST] Pro-democracy demonstrators in Nepal [JURIST news archive] marched in the streets again on Monday for a fifth straight day to protest the direct rule government of King Gyanendra [official website], defying curfews [JURIST report], tear gas and rubber bullets. Local press reports say that "scores" of protestors were injured and dozens arrested as they defied Gyanendra's ban [JURIST report] on public meetings in the cities of Kathmandu and Lalitpur.

The bloody protests - backed by all seven political parties and a wide cross-section of the nation's economic classes - were another sign of continued resistance to the King's 14 month-old government. US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the Gyanendra should heed protesters' request and called for the immediate return to democracy and a open "dialogue with Nepal's constitutional political parties." AP has more. eKantipur has local coverage and a photo blog of Day 5 of the protests.






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Taylor lawyer fights change of venue for war crimes trial
Christopher G. Anderson on April 10, 2006 3:55 PM ET

[JURIST] Charles Taylor [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], the former president of Liberia indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) [official website], will challenge a prosecutor's motion that seeks to move his trial from Freetown, Sierra Leone, to The Hague in the Netherlands, his British lawyer [JURIST report] announced Monday. Prosecutors told officials of the UN-backed court that a move from the West African nation was necessary to avoid causing unrest among neighboring countries, such as Liberia itself. The UN Security Council is currently considering a resolution to move the trial [JURIST report], but members have not yet agreed [DPA report] on whether to do so, on how to fund a shifted proceeding (estimated to cost some $20M) or on what legal basis a shift might be authorized. But Taylor's lawyers argue that the change of venue could effect the availability of scheduled witnesses and insist there was no evidence that a Freetown trial would be unfair.

Taylor stands accused [indictment, PDF; summary] of war crimes - including impressing children as young as eight into his rebel army - and of orchestrating terrorist acts committed during Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war. SCSL administrators are currently looking [JURIST report] for a country willing to grant Taylor asylum if he is acquitted. If convicted, Taylor will most likely be imprisoned in Sweden. Reuters has more.






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Ex-Enron CEO declares innocence, vows to fight charges 'until the day I die'
Christopher G. Anderson on April 10, 2006 3:10 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Enron [corporate website; JURIST news archive] CEO Jeffrey Skilling [Houston Chronicle profile] testified in his own defense on Monday, asserting that he is "absolutely innocent" of fraud and conspiracy charges [PDF indictment; US DOJ trial materials] and added that he would "fight those charges until the day I die." Skilling also told jurors that former Enron executives who pleaded guilty to fraud charges and agreed to testify against him [JURIST report] - many Skilling's friends and former co-workers - did so only to cut deals with the prosecution and were actually not guilty.

Skilling is being tried along with company founder Kenneth Lay [personal website; Houston Chronicle profile] who is also expected to take the stand later this week. The defense case is expected to last an additional three weeks. AP has more. The Houston Chronicle has local coverage.






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UK High Court strikes down sham marriage laws aimed at immigrants
Krystal MacIntyre on April 10, 2006 2:54 PM ET

[JURIST] A UK High Court judge on Monday overturned laws [Home Office backgrounder] designed to fight the rising number of "sham marriages" [Telegraph report] within the United Kingdom, ruling that the rules discriminated against immigrants and were incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights [PDF text]. The laws, which took effect in February 2005, required people born outside the European Union who were temporarily permitted in the UK to seek special permission from the Home Office [official website] to marry. The only exception to this rule was if the couple planned to marry in the Church of England [official website]. High Court Justice Silber struck down the laws, saying they placed an unfair burden on immigrants, especially those of varying religions.

UK officials have said that as many as 10,000 fraudulent marriages took place every year to get around immigration rules, but that after the laws took effect the number of fraudulent marriages declined. A Home Office spokesman said the government is considering filing an appeal, but will comply with the High Court decision. BBC News has more. The Telegraph has additional coverage.






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French students continue jobs protests despite decision to 'replace' CPE
Krista-Ann Staley on April 10, 2006 2:53 PM ET

[JURIST] Protests continued at 32 of France's 84 universities Monday, despite separate announcements [JURIST report] from French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin earlier in the day that the section of a recently-enacted law [JURIST document] on equality of opportunity establishing the so-called First Employment Contract (contrat premiere embauche, CPE) [JURIST news archive] would be "replaced." Rather than increasing the ease of firing employees under the age of 26, the replacement statute will include provisions to help young people find work. The demands of the students continuing to protest, however, include the withdrawal of a flexible work contract introduced last year and more job security. AFP has more.

French Trade Minister Christine Lagarde [official profile] meanwhile told reporters Monday that notwithstanding media interpretation the replacement of the law should not be viewed as a defeat for the government and that she supported continued debate in the matter. AFP has more.






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Bush defends disclosure of secret Iraq intelligence
Krista-Ann Staley on April 10, 2006 2:17 PM ET

[JURIST] President Bush defended his decision to declassify intelligence regarding the Iraq war Monday, responding to allegations of wrongdoing revealed during the CIA leak case [JURIST news archive]. Addressing students and foreign policy analysts at Johns Hopkins University, the president explained that he declassified portions of an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate [Wikipedia backgrounder; definition] to defend his pre-war claims that Iraq posed a nuclear threat to the US. He stated, "I wanted people to see what some of those statements were based on. I wanted people to see the truth. I thought it made sense for people to see the truth." He did not, however, respond to the grand jury testimony of former vice-presidential Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby [defense profile; JURIST news archive] that the president directly authorized Libby to disclose the information [JURIST report] to reporters.

During an interview on Fox News Sunday, US Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website] urged Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney [JURIST report] to publicly explain their roles in the CIA leak case. Reuters has more.






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Immigration supporters rally in cities across US
Krystal MacIntyre on April 10, 2006 2:03 PM ET

[JURIST] Large numbers of immigrants and supporters assembled in cities across the United States Monday for a National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice [advocacy website], urging lawmakers to make it easier for the nation's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants to live in the country legally. The demonstrations come in response to the ongoing debate in Congress on immigration reform [JURIST archive], which has prompted heavy criticism from the US immigrant population. The US House of Representatives passed [JURIST report] a border security bill [HR 4437 summary] last year, but the Senate version of the legislation, S 2454 [summary] stalled [JURIST report] last week after a compromise agreement [PDF summary] fell through.

It's estimated that as many as 50,000 immigration supporters rallied in Atlanta while several thousand protested in Philadelphia, Dallas, San Diego and Salt Lake City. Local events [event listings] were scheduled to take place in every state, and as many as 2 million are expected to attend 136 rallies across the country. A similar protest in Dallas [AP report] on Sunday included as many 500,000 people and organizers hope to get as many as 180,000 protesters at an afternoon rally in Washington, DC [Washington Post report]. AP has more. Bloomberg has additional coverage.






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Ohio governor violated lawyer ethics rules: state disciplinary board
Krystal MacIntyre on April 10, 2006 1:25 PM ET

[JURIST] Ohio Governor Bob Taft [official website] is set to face a second round of disciplinary action for failing to report gifts that he received while in office. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel [official website], part of the Ohio Supreme Court [official website] tasked with monitoring lawyer behavior, said Monday that Taft violated the Ohio Code of Professional Responsibility [text] for receiving over 50 gifts worth up to $6,000 during his past four years in office.

Taft pleaded no contest [JURIST report] in August 2005 to charges [JURIST report] that he failed to provide complete financial disclosure statements to the Ohio Ethics Commission [official website], neglecting to report golf outings and other gifts. The state supreme court will ultimately decide the appropriate punishment for Taft's ethics violations and he could lose his license to practice law. AP has more.






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International brief ~ EU suspends aid to Palestinian Authority over Hamas
D. Wes Rist on April 10, 2006 12:23 PM ET

[JURIST] Leading Monday's international brief, the European Union [official website] Council of Foreign Ministers has voted to suspend economic aid to the Palestinian Authority [JURIST news archive] on the grounds that EU law forbids the funding of terrorist organizations and recently elected political organization Hamas has failed to distance itself from its terrorist roots. The EU has pledged to aid the Palestinian government [JURIST report], but has required that Hamas renounce violence as a method of achieving political change, recognize the right of Israel to exist as a nation-state, and agree to abide by all previously accepted peace treaties. Hamas has been listed as a terrorist entity for several years in the EU and legal experts warned that Hamas' election as the ruling party [JURIST report] of the PA would jeopardize financial aid agreements under anti-terrorism laws. BBC News has more.

In other international legal news ...

  • Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the largest political opposition group in Zimbabwe [government website], the Movement for Democratic Change [party website], has sent a challenge to current Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile] to step down from office and allow internationally organized free elections in the struggling African nation. Mugabe has faced increasing international condemnation [JURIST report] concerning his policies in Zimbabwe, which is facing an agricultural crisis as a result of farm seizure policies Mugabe implemented when he came to power. Tsvangirai has alleged that free elections are impossible in Zimbabwe without international observers, but Mugabe refuses to allow UN, US, or EU election officials into the country during elections because he claims they are biased against his ruling Zanu PF party [party website]. JURIST's Paper Chase has continuing coverage of Zimbabwe [JURIST news archive]. ZimOnline has local coverage.

  • Tony Leon, the head of the Democratic Alliance (DA) [party website], the leading opposition political party in South Africa [government website], has announced his intent to submit a bill [press release] to the South African Parliament [official website] on Tuesday that would amend the South African Constitution [text] to require that any politician who chooses to switch political parties while in office be forced to vacate their seat in the legislature. The DA has come out strongly against the recent government push to allow so-called 'floor crossing', calling it an attempt to legitimize bribery of elected officials into the ruling party. Floor crossing had originally been legalized in South Africa in response to the growing level of absolute control exercised by the heads of political parties, but Leon said that the abuse of floor crossing for political gain by the ruling African National Congress [party website] party had made the practice detrimental to the voters of South Africa. JURIST's Paper Chase has continuing coverage of South Africa [JURIST news archive]. Read the DA official press release. South Africa's Mail & Guardian Online has local coverage.

  • Informal Sector Service Center [advocacy website], a human rights agency based in Nepal [government website], released its annual Human Rights Yearbook [text] on Sunday covering the past year in Nepal. The report detailed over 1,500 deaths in Nepal in the last year due to violations of human rights of individuals, with the government's security forces responsible for 815 of the fatalities. The report also accuses the government of using the declaration of a state of emergency [JURIST report] as an excuse to crack down on all attempts at peaceful political gatherings and protests. The report also detailed ongoing human rights violations by the Maoist factions, including the documented abduction by Maoists of nearly 33,000 individuals in the past year, most of them children. The head of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal [official website] Ian Martin told gathered reporters and human rights workers that the UN was concerned about a perceived continuing failure of the Nepalese government to address human rights abuses by government entities. JURIST's Paper Chase has continuing coverage of Nepal [JURIST news archive]. eKantipur.com has local coverage.





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Internet fraud complaints reach record numbers in 2005
Lisl Brunner on April 10, 2006 10:40 AM ET

[JURIST] Americans reported a record $183 million lost to Internet fraud in 2005, a 169 percent increase from the previous year, according to a new report published by the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) [official website]. In its 2005 Internet Crime Report [PDF text; FBI press release], the IC3, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, reported that the Nigerian letter scam [IC3 backgrounder] accounted for some of the highest losses with an average $5,000 lost per complaint.

Sixty-two percent of complaints received related to Internet auction fraud [IC3 backgrounder] and the median loss for all 231,493 complaints filed in 2005 was $424. The report found that 71 percent of the criminals who could be traced lived in the United States, with the second largest group, 8 percent, living in Nigeria. Hearst News Service has more.






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EU imposes travel ban against Belarus president, officials over elections
Lisl Brunner on April 10, 2006 10:17 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Union on Monday approved a travel ban [PDF press release] on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko [official website, BBC profile] and 30 other top government officials in response to his government's crackdown on political protesters [JURIST report] following the widely criticized March 19 elections [JURIST report]. The ban was first debated last week [JURIST report], when the European Parliament adopted a resolution [press release] calling Lukashenko "the last dictator in Europe."

The visa ban will prevent Lukashenko and his officials from entering the 25 EU countries. Similar restrictions have also been imposed on the heads of state of Zimbabwe and Myanmar, but this is first time a travel ban has been imposed on the leader of a neighboring country. EU officials stressed that the ban is meant to target the Belarus leadership rather than its people. AP has more.

4:59 PM ET - The Belarus Ministry of Foreign Affairs [official website] called the EU decision and a similar move by the US [press release] "uncivilized," saying it would impose "reciprocal measures" against EU and US officials [press release]. AFP has more.






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US pilot reprimanded in Canadian 'friendly fire' deaths sues Air Force for privacy violation
Lisl Brunner on April 10, 2006 9:38 AM ET

[JURIST] National Guard Major Harry Schmidt is suing the US Air Force for violating his privacy after it published a letter of reprimand [text] for his involvement in a friendly-fire incident in Afghanistan [CBC backgrounder]. On April 18, 2002 Schmidt and another pilot killed four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan [JURIST news archive] when they dropped a 500-pound bomb, mistaking the soldiers for Taliban fighters. After finding Schmidt guilty [JURIST report] of dereliction of duty following an Article 32 hearing [JAG backgrounder] in July 2004, the Air Force agreed not to court-martial him and permitted him to remain in the National Guard.

Schmidt alleges that the Air Force published the scathing letter against him in violation of their agreement, damaging his reputation. The suit, filed in federal court on Friday, asks for unspecified damages. Schmidt first indicated his intent to sue the Air Force [JURIST report] in 2004. AP has more.






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Australia oil-for-food inquiry to get statement from PM
Lisl Brunner on April 10, 2006 9:06 AM ET

[JURIST] Australian Prime Minister John Howard [official profile] said Monday that he will provide a statement [press release] to the judicial inquiry [Cole Commission official website] into Australia's involvement in the oil-for-food scandal [JURIST news archive], offering to appear before the panel if necessary. Led by retired judge Terence Cole [official profile], the inquiry began in November and has primarily focused on the Australian Wheat Board [corporate website], which allegedly paid $222 million in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's government. Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile gave a statement on Monday and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer will appear on Tuesday. Downer has already told the media that no one from his department was involved or aware of the scandal. Meanwhile, the UN official responsible for managing the contracts with Iraq has criticized the ministers' claims [Australian report], saying that UN Resolution 661 [PDF text] requires all leaders to ensure that their countries did not transfer funds to Iraq.

Australia is one of the first countries to conduct its own probe into the oil-for-food program. Earlier this month, France launched an investigation [JURIST report] into 172 French companies that were implicated in the scandal, and Sweden began an inquiry [JURIST report] in January. The Australian has local coverage. AP has more.






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Katrina evacuees begin voting in disputed New Orleans election
Jeannie Shawl on April 10, 2006 8:19 AM ET

[JURIST] The first voters will cast their ballots Monday in New Orleans municipal elections [JURIST news archive] under Louisiana's displaced voters plan [Sec. of State materials], after a federal judge refused to delay elections late last month. Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive] evacuees who are currently residing outside Louisiana will return by bus to cast early votes at ten polling stations for displaced residents around the state. Rights groups had urged the state [NAACP materials] to do more to accommodate displaced residents, a large number of whom are African American, and sued [JURIST report] to prevent the April 22 elections from going forward, arguing the state's plan is equivalent to an illegal poll tax [Wikipedia backgrounder], but were unable to win a favorable court ruling. The US Justice Department said Monday that federal observers will monitor early voting [press release] in two of the satellite locations.

The Justice Department last month approved the election plans [JURIST report] using its authority under the 1965 Voting Rights Act [DOJ backgrounder]. The Louisiana Senate considered legislation that would have created satellite polling stations in other states, making it easier for displaced residents to cast ballots, but a Senate committee rejected the proposal [JURIST report], saying the state's current plan presented an adequate solution to the dispute. AP has more.






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French CPE labor law to be 'replaced'
Bernard Hibbitts on April 10, 2006 6:20 AM ET

[JURIST] French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominque de Villepin said in separate statements Monday in Paris following a morning meeting [JURIST report] that the First Employment Contract (contrat premiere embauche, CPE) [JURIST news archive] established in a recent law [JURIST document] would be "replaced" with other measures designed to help young people find work. The apparent cave-in follows weeks of controversy marked by major strikes and huge demonstrations in French cities.

A statement [official text] from the French Presidency said:

Sur proposition du Premier ministre et après avoir entendu les Présidents des groupes parlementaires et les responsables de la majorité, le Président de la République a décidé de remplacer l'article 8 de la loi sur l'égalité des chances par un dispositif en faveur de l'insertion professionnelle des jeunes en difficulté.
In a brief television address [recorded video via TF1] following the presidential statement, de Villepin said that disruptions in the universities endangered end-of-year exams, the marches threatened the safety of young people, and that overall the conditions necessary to implement the CPE did not exist. Instead, new job training provisions would be introduced. Read the full transcript [in French] of de Villepin's statement.

Opponents of the law say they are satisfied with this resolution of the crisis, calling the CPE effectively "dead". AP has more. Le Monde has local coverage.





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