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Bosses shut a car parts factory in northern France on Wednesday after employees, outraged over mass job losses, ransacked offices and destroyed equipment.

On Tuesday, a French court rejected a motion brought by employees of the factory, owned by Germany’s Continental AG, to block the plant’s planned 2010 closure.

Citing the steep drop in demand in the automobile sector, Continental announced plans in March to scrap the factory in Clairoix, north of Paris, leaving 1,120 staff facing the axe.

Over 300 workers at the plant responded to Tuesday’s ruling by smashing windows and destroying equipment at the factory and regional administrative offices in nearby Compiegne.

Factory management distributed fliers on Wednesday reading: ‘We have no other choice but to suspend production as well as the whole of the site’s activities until further notice.’

French government officials condemned the workers’ rampage, with French Prime Minister Francois Fillon criticising what he called a small minority of ‘very violent’ workers who are ‘hijacking’ peaceful union mediation efforts.

Employees at the factory are steaming because in 2007 they agreed to a 40-hour working week, up from France’s standard 35-hour week, on the understanding that the site would remain open until 2012.

The Clairoix workers have booked 14 railway carriages and will travel to the German city of Hanover to protest at Thursday’s Continental annual general shareholders’ meeting.

One angry French worker said: ‘We know where to strike – the shareholders, they have our money.’

Most economists foresee a worsening of the economic situation in France this year, with forecasts of job losses ranging from 350,000 to one million.

And Mr Fillion admitted on Wednesday that the French economy would suffer a ‘serious recession’ in 2009, with a slow recovery expected in 2010.

He said that a contraction of 2.5 per cent in 2009 was ‘probable.’

Millions of workers and students have taken to the streets in recent months to demand that French President Nicholas Sarkozy increases the minimum wage, boosts taxes on the rich and scraps plans to cut public-sector jobs.

‘Boss-nappings’ and other forms of militant direct action are on the increase.

In a radio interview on Sunday, former PM Dominique de Villepin spoke of ‘a revolutionary risk’ emerging in France.

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