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Uphill struggle to apply reforms


The new French education minister is Gilles de Robien, who replaces Francois Fillon in the government reshuffle following the appointment by President Chirac of Dominique de Villepin as prime minister.

Mr de Robien, 64, is the third education minister since Mr Chirac's conservative UMP party won power in 2002, and is the only one who belongs to a different political grouping, the more centrist UDF.

Previously minister for infrastructure, transport, spatial planning, tourism and the sea, Mr de Robien will have the task of applying controversial educational reforms. These were voted through parliament a few weeks ago amid protests from teachers, parents and pupils, forcing Mr Fillon to withdraw some of the most unpopular measures.

As well as the new education act, pensions and decentralisation reforms caused relations to deteriorate between the unions and the previous government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

Mr de Robien has made a conciliatory start, promising "to listen" and to take decisions depending on what he hears. He wanted to know "why the reform has generated much hesitation, sometimes even revolt", and this week called meetings with everyone who asked to see him. "If a million ask, I'll receive a million," he said as he formally took over his post.

Having become law the reform is here to stay, but the new minister's talks with teachers', parents' and pupils' representatives could result in compromise or withdrawal of contentious measures.

Meanwhile, Samuel Morville, 18, last week received a five-month suspended prison sentence and e500 (pound;337) damages as he became the first protester to be convicted after pupil demonstrations against the new law turned violent. About 40 more pupils face prosecution.

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