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Last Updated: Monday, 11 August, 2003, 09:16 GMT 10:16 UK
French WTO protest movement grows
By Megan Rowling
at the anti-WTO rally in Larzac, France

More than 100,000 protesters rallied over the weekend in France against the World Trade Organisation and the French Government's privatisation plans.

The crowds who had assembled under the burning sun on the rural Larzac plateau erupted into a frenzy of cheers and applause.

Striding onto the stage, fist raised, local farmer José Bové received a hero's welcome.

The pipe-smoking star of the anti-globalisation movement had been released from prison only a few days earlier, after serving a sentence for pulling up genetically modified crops.

Jose Bove stands in front of crowd in Larzac
September should not just be hot, but burning, with everyone taking to the streets .. I bet that we can make Cancun fail
José Bové, anti-WTO farmer
And despite the crushing heat, thousands of people flocked to this weekend's gathering to celebrate his freedom.

Raising the temperature

Kicking off the event on Friday afternoon, Mr Bové called on protesters to raise the temperature ahead of next month's WTO meeting in Cancun, Mexico.

"September should not just be hot, but burning, with everyone taking to the streets.

"Since 1995, the WTO has attempted to impose its rules on us. But we haven't been asked our opinion by governments on the right or on the left. So we are going to give it to them, and they will have no choice but to listen."

The talk on everyone's lips, including Bové's, was of a repeat of November 1999, when the WTO talks in Seattle collapsed in disarray.

"I think we are in the same situation we were in before Seattle," he told BBC News Online.

"There is significant dissent on the issues of agriculture, services, investment and patents...This means it's entirely possible Cancun will fail.

"For us, that would be positive, because for a long time now, we have been demanding a halt to the processes of globalisation so that the situation can be analysed."


Although not all were preparing to take direct action against the WTO, the crowds at Larzac were certainly united behind the often-repeated slogan: 'Other Worlds Are Possible'.

The debates taking place in the crammed marquees, neatly named 'Seattle', 'Genoa', 'Porto Alegre' and 'Cancun', spanned a huge array of topics, including agriculture; the liberalisation of services; culture and globalisation; genetically modified organisms (GMOs); energy depletion and social repression.

A multitude of stands offered information on everything from the Palestinian struggle and illegal immigrants in France, to striking arts workers and organisations promoting alternative lifestyles.

Protesters rallied against the domination of money
Confusing? Not to Yvette, 53, a veteran political activist from Paris:

"The WTO is appalling, and should be dismantled, of course. But the main problem at the root of all this is the current global obsession with 'the market' and the idolisation of money."

Human face of protest

Some grumbled that even the event itself was infected by capitalism, as people queued up to buy drink tokens and branded 'Larzac 2003' merchandise.

A few argued that the evening gigs, headlining Manu Chao and Asian Dub Foundation, detracted from the political objectives.

There was a holiday atmosphere at the rally
Yet most saw nothing wrong with mixing business and pleasure.

Anarchist band 'Les Amis D'Ta Femme' talked of their opposition to France's centre-right government "which is only in favour of finance, the police and social order, not freedom, equality or education".

Art student Amandine, 20, from Limoges, while enjoying the chilled-out guitar music at the 'space' set up by the militant farmers' organisation, Confédération Paysanne, explained why the festive atmosphere was perfect for politics:

"This weekend is all about the fact that we want a more 'human' quality to our lives. It's a great place to discuss and exchange ideas. There are so many different kinds of people here; old, young, families, people from other countries."


To José Bové, the greater-than-expected attendance and diversity of causes represented at Larzac were evidence that the anti-globalisation movement has not lost its way:

"When you look at the people gathered here, you do not see a movement that is losing power, but rather the will to create strong links."

He stressed the importance of building co-operation with developing countries - which are meant to benefit most from the current round of global trade talks.

Campaigners are angry at the WTO's failure so far to agree on cutting subsidies to farmers in the developed world and allowing poor countries' access to affordable medicines.

"We have already seen at Seattle, and a little at Doha, that the presence of social movements at the summit provides very strong support for the poorest countries.

"It's the alliance between these countries and international social movements that gets results," explained Mr Bové.

He is accredited to attend the 'alternative summit' that will take place alongside the official WTO meeting in Cancun.

There, the aim will be "to put the pressure on those inside the talks".

Yet as Mr Bové has only just begun a period of community service following his time in prison, he must first get permission to leave France.

The current government is certainly no fan of the farmer turned activist.

But as the huge crowds at Larzac 2003 indicated, trying to stop him only seems to make his sympathisers even more determined.

French rally against WTO talks
10 Aug 03  |  Europe
Agricultural trade clash at summit
29 Jul 03  |  Business
US launches GM trade war
13 May 03  |  Business
Protest disrupts Tour de France
15 Jul 03  |  Europe
Profile: France's farm crusader
30 Jun 00  |  Europe

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