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Friday, 13 July, 2001, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
Garden gnomes set free in France

By Hugh Schofield in Paris

In France a shadowy organisation calling itself The Liberation Front for Garden Gnomes has struck again.

Seventy-four gnomes have been found laid out in front of the cathedral in the eastern French town of Saint-Die.

Summer is here, and with it, the group's focus on rescuing seemingly trapped gnomes.

For the police this is an increasingly wearisome annual event.

'De-ridiculising' the gnomes

For several years now, this has been the season for The Liberation Front for Garden Gnomes to re-dedicate itself to the task of purloining pottery manikins from unsuspecting suburban lawns.

In the words of its literature, the group then works on "de-ridiculising the figurines by placing them back in their natural environment".

This normally means woodland groves, but occasionally activists choose more photo-friendly settings, such as the cathedral concourse in Saint-Die.

This was the second spectacular in two days. More than 100 gnomes were found on Tuesday, in woods also in the Vosges region, and across the country householders are reporting thefts daily.

For the police the joke is wearing distinctly thin.

They have to treat every disappearance seriously because as one spokesman put it many people, especially the elderly, are actually very attached to their garden gnomes.

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