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FRANCE: Farmer Jose Bove Leads New McDonalds Protest

by Jamey KeatenAssociated Press
August 13th, 2001

Militant farmer Jose Bove and two thousand supporters returned Sunday to the same McDonald's restaurant he helped dismantle two years ago, this time holding a more restrained rally to protest unchecked globalization and demand support for farmers.

The mustachioed sheep farmer and fellow members of the Farmers' Confederation, a radical union, rode tractors into the southern town of Millau and surrounded the fast-food restaurant before addressing the crowd.

Sunday's protest came on the two-year anniversary of the attack on the Millau McDonald's, a high-profile demonstration against the ills of globalization that led to Bove's conviction in a French court.

About 70 police officers cordoned off the parking lot to prevent the protesters, many wearing shirts that read "The world is not merchandise," from approaching the McDonald's. Large signs that read "closed due to threats" were hung on the restaurant's windows.

Bove and his allies pledged to continue their protest as long as necessary to gain support from the French government for farmers hit by a U.S. surcharge against Roquefort cheese, which is made in a nearby village.

The protesters have targeted McDonald's as a symbol of how unchecked globalization can trample local culture such as French cuisine.

"We are the hostages of the World Trade Organization and the United States," Bove told protesters. "We won't leave until negotiations have begun with the French government."

Bove said his supporters would remain in Millau until at least Monday evening, depending on progress made during his discussions with EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, planned for Monday in Brussels.

In March, an appeals court in nearby Montpellier upheld a decision ordering Bove to spend three months in jail for vandalizing the fast-food restaurant on Aug. 12, 1999 while it was under construction.

Bove remains free pending appeal. He has also been fined for briefly holding three Agriculture Ministry officials captive in the town of Rodez in 1999.

Bove said he spoke with Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany on Sunday, demanding support for French farmers hurt by the U.S. surcharge on Roquefort one of the many EU luxury products that the United States slapped with a surtax after the World Trade Organization ruled the European Union improperly rejected U.S. hormone-treated beef. Bove also said he asked for a halt to tests of genetically modified crops in fields in southern France.

"We've given an ultimatum that if the French government doesn't rip up those fields, we'll do it ourselves ... as early as this week," he said.

Under a scorching sun, farmers with deep tans and youths in tie-dyed T-shirts called out in support for Bove as he approached the restaurant in a blue Ford tractor with a pipe in his mouth.

A marching band dressed in African-style batik clothes played jazz near the restaurant, nestled on a hillside overlooking Millau and the Tarn River.

Cars filled the parking lot at the Millau McDonald's on Saturday evening, but many diners were unaware of the protest scheduled for Sunday. Some were sympathetic to Bove's crusade against "malbouffe" or "foul food" while others insisted the attack against McDonald's was just an anti-American ploy.

"I agree with the battle against bad food, but not the methods (Bove) used," said Thierry Ciabatti, 37, a visitor from Nice, who was eating a Big Mac on the restaurant patio.

"McDonald's is a bad habit for kids, and it leads to loss of our culinary heritage but the reason they attack here is because they know it will make a big splash."

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