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French strikers release manager hostage

FRENCH workers released a manager of United States manufacturer 3M after holding him hostage for two days in a dispute over layoffs, the company said yesterday, amid rising French unemployment and public outrage at employers.

A new poll indicated that French worker frustration remains high, with a majority of respondents predicting more violent incidents in response to the economic crisis. The hostage-taking was one of many recent efforts by French workers to protest the downturn.

Workers at a 3M factory in Pithiviers locked manager Luc Rousselet in an office on Tuesday, demanding better severance packages for those laid off and better conditions for those who keep their jobs.

After discussions on Wednesday that ran into the night, Rousselet was released unharmed and left the factory grounds, company spokeswoman Catherine Hamon said.

Negotiations between workers and management over details of the layoff plan were to resume at regional administrative offices, according to regional official Christian Piccolo.

The manufacturer, based in the US state of Minnesota, has announced thousands of layoffs worldwide amid the economic downturn, including 110 of the 235 jobs at the Pithiviers factory in France.

Anger has been growing markedly on both sides of the Atlantic over job cuts and high bonuses for executives whose companies were kept afloat with billions in taxpayers' money.

That anger has led to kidnappings, marches and strikes in france, which has a long tradition of labor unrest.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is threatening new laws to curb excesses in bonuses and executive severance packages. Sarkozy is also trying to deflect anger against his government's failure to ward off the job losses and economic hardship.

The French government announced on Tuesday that 80,000 people had been added to unemployment rolls in February.

A poll published on Wednesday showed that 64 percent of respondents predicted that the French would "revolt" against the crisis with more violent incidents. Some 58 percent blamed banks for the crisis, followed by political leaders.


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