protest against the French government's labor reform in Paris.jpg
Photograph: EPA/JEREMY LEMPIN

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in France on Tuesday, with a handful facing off with police in a teargas-filled central Parisian plaza after a march against controversial labour reforms.

Unions and student organizations had called for strikes and marches to pressure the government to scupper labour reforms perceived to erode hard-earned workers rights.

Police estimated 11,000-12,000 people took part in the marches, while umbrella union CGT said the number was 55,000. Approximately 12 people were arrested, French media reported.

The government says the reforms are needed to boost the economy and bring down unemployment, and President Francois Hollande vowed to pursue the legislation.

"This law, which is being debated, including on the street, it will pass," Hollande told Europe 1 radio on Tuesday morning. He added that "too many governments have given in" in the past, creating the conditions that have dogged France's attempts to jump-start economic growth.

The demonstration interrupted traffic on the sixth day of mass strikes in little over two months in France. They were the first of a series of planned protests this week called by seven umbrella unions, including some for students. All have called for another day of general strikes on Thursday.

Civil aviation authorities have warned that 15 per cent of flights from Paris' Orly airport would be cancelled on Thursday.

Police have also planned a demonstration against violence to be held on Wednesday, after weeks of confrontations with protesters that resulted in police injuries.

Additionally, two umbrella unions that include transportation workers, called strikes on Wednesday and Thursday, to draw attention to their work demands. The labour stoppages are expected to affect two out of every three high-speed TGV trains.

Last week, the French government survived a no-confidence vote in the lower house of parliament, called after the prime minister said he would invoke a constitutional amendment allowing him to push through legislation.

The labour reforms that the government is aiming to push through include measures aimed at easing regulations on working hours and changing the rules governing dismissal compensation. Opponents see it as watering down hard-earned protections for workers.

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