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by Euro Reporter
2012-04-15 10:40:05
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Second-chance schools give hope to unemployed

When he ran for the French presidency in 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to open more "second-chance schools" for young people without qualifications. "I came back because I need to live," says 20-year-old Maureen, who has just started a 10-month course at the School of the Second Chance in the northern Paris suburb of Clichy. "I can't find a job and I can't earn any money without qualifications today. I realise that two years after dropping out of school I can't wait any longer and that's why I'm here," she says. She hopes that "L'Ecole de la deuxieme chance", which tailors teaching to the students' individual needs and sends them on placements to local firms, will put her on a path to employment. The second-chance schools were originally an EU-wide project, set up by the former French Prime Minister Edith Cresson when she was an EU Commissioner.

But it is in France where they have really taken off. There are currently about 100 of them across the country, helping about 12,000 students. Last year the number of students attending second-chance schools in France rose by 42%. Many of the pupils have difficult social and family backgrounds and all are either on benefits or receive payment to attend the 10-month course. Edith Cresson, who now heads a foundation that supports the students, told the BBC they all have the same aim: "The motivation is that they have to find a job. They don't have the tools." And with youth unemployment in France at 22%, it is a daunting task.  Denis Vignollet runs the school in Clichy. He says the job market has become tougher for his students.

"I think it's more difficult, but then their attitude towards work, it's always negative, from the news and everything that's going on. So we work on that a lot." The schools are funded by the French state and from regional budgets, as well as by money from the EU and from local businesses. Maureen is determined to succeed at the second-chance school. She says most of her friends are unemployed, caught in a vicious circle, like her, having dropped out of school without qualifications: "If you haven't got any qualifications, you can't get any experience, and if you haven't got any experience, companies won't hire you," she says. Guillaume is 19 years old and has just started at the school in Clichy after he dropped out of his previous school and struggled to find a job. "I realised that I needed some help. I knew what I didn't want to do, but I didn't really know how to do what I wanted," he says.  Guillaume is hoping to work as an audio-visual technician and is looking for some relevant work experience - and experience is what they offer at the Second Chance School in Clichy.


France questions suspect over serial murders

French police detained a suspect on Saturday for questioning over a spate of fatal shootings in a Paris suburb in the last few months which had raised fears a serial killer was on the loose, a police source said. Police were searching the home of the suspect, who French media said was a 33-year-old man, in the suburb of Essonne.

The shooting of a woman in Essonne in early April by a man on a motorbike sent shivers through France, coming days after an al Qaeda-inspired gunman shot dead three soldiers, a rabbi and three Jewish children in south-western France in March. Police hunted down that gunman in a matter of days and shot him dead after a long standoff at his home in the city of Toulouse.

The drama briefly boosted President Nicolas Sarkozy in opinion polls for a looming presidential election by thrusting a spotlight on security issues and the incumbent's strong law-and-order record over Socialist challenger Francois Hollande. Prosecutors said earlier this month that the Essonne gunman had used the same 7.65 mm calibre semi-automatic pistol in three other shootings in the same area over the five previous months. The government vowed to throw all its resources into hunting down the killer and placed 100 investigators on the case.


Far-left Melenchon vows to fight on after vote

Radical leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon drew another huge crowd to a political rally on Saturday, this time at a beach in Marseille, riding a wave of support that could help secure a Socialist victory in an April-May presidential election. Melenchon, who briefly surged into third place in the polls behind Socialist Francois Hollande and conservative Nicolas Sarkozy last week ahead of the April 22 first round vote, told flag-waving supporters they were making history and that their anti-capitalist fight would continue after the election. Officials for Melenchon’s Left Front grouping of far-left parties said 120,000 people attended, matching the crowd Melenchon drew to the Bastille in Paris a month ago. Witnesses put the number at closer to 80,000 people.

“The fight is the fight and I ask you to remember that with the Left Front you don’t just have a voting slip but you have a team of men and women who are organising a fight for the long term which will not end on the date others might think, because that’s when it will all start,” Melenchon told the crowd. “We must end the right’s power for good. Whatever happens, we must beat them,” he roared. While the far-leftist, who wants a citizens’ revolution to curb the power of free markets, stands little chance of making it into a May 6 presidential runoff, his soaring popularity is a headache for Hollande as he could win a bloc of parliamentary seats in June elections and demand a government post. Melenchon says he will focus on a street-led push for a higher minimum wage and caps on salaries, as well as higher taxation of the rich, hinting at mass protests. However, he has said he is opposed to disruptive strike action.

The former Trotskyist also wants to pull France out of European budget stability pacts, including the recent fiscal compact credited with calming financial markets over the euro zone’s debt crisis. Saturday’s crowd, framed by sunlit mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, filled the Prado public beach which city officials gave the Left Front permission to use after they threatened to otherwise march through Marseille. “The force is there and its immense. We’ll show them we are bigger than they are,” Melenchon told reporters at his campaign headquarters on Friday, noting that 4.7 million viewers watched him on a TV debate this week, more than those who watched Hollande or Sarkozy.

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