Reuters International

Clouds of tear gas fill the air as protesters face off with the police during a demonstration against what they say is police violence, in Rennes, France, May 14, 2016. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

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PARIS (Reuters) - A slim majority of French people are in favour of protests against a deeply contested labour reform the ruling Socialist Party is pushing through parliament, a poll showed on Sunday.

The government faces strikes and new waves of protests after opting last week to use a rarely used constitutional clause to pass the legislation in the face of opposition from rebel Socialist lawmakers and other leftists.

Some 54 percent of those surveyed said they supported the protests against the law to free up France's rigid labour market while 45 percent did not, according to the BVA poll of 1,160 people on May 12 and 13 for Orange and Itele.

Support had fallen only slightly from the 56 percent seen when the poll was first conducted in early April.

Protesters' anger is focussed on the government's plans to make hiring and firing easier in an attempt to get stubbornly high unemployment falling, with presidential elections a year away.

Street protests have been called for next week while unions have called on railway workers, dockers, truckers, airport and refinery workers to hold strikes.

Opposition to the reform has also spawned a series of protests by youths that have grown into a broader anti-establishment movement.

However, as those protests have become increasingly violent in clashes with riot police, their public support has fallen, down 11 percentage points over one month to 49 percent, according to an Odoxa poll of 993 people on May 12 and 13 for Le Parisien newspaper.

In a visit to the western city of Rennes to support riot police enforcing a protest ban after violent clashes, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 1,300 people had been arrested across France since the start of the protests two months ago.

"Maintaining order is harder than ever," he said, vowing to keep cracking down on any cases of "extreme violence".

Police said that up to 2,000 people gathered on Sunday to demonstrate and hold concerts at Paris' Place de la Republique, where the youth protests first sprung up with all-night protests.

(Reporting by Leigh Thomas and Emmanuel Jarry; Editing by Ros Russell)

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