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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 August, 2003, 21:45 GMT 22:45 UK
French rally against WTO talks
By Hugh Schofield
In Paris

Jose Bove stands in front of crowd in Larzac
French campaigner Jose Bove gave the keynote speech

More than 100,000 people have been attending a weekend rally in the southern French countryside, called to condemn next month's round of trade liberalisation talks being held under auspices of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Cancun, Mexico.

French police had to turn back many activists as searing temperatures in the European heatwave raised fears that the crowd would run out of water.

The keynote speech was made by the veteran French anti-globalisation campaigner Jose Bove, who was released from jail only a week ago after serving part of a 10-month term for uprooting genetically modified crops.

Organisers of the Larzac 2003 rally are claiming a massive success, the unexpectedly high attendance figures a sign of widespread popular unease, they say, with what they say as the relentless march of US-style liberal economic and social policy.

Symbolic location

Mr Bove, the moustachioed sheep farmer who has become perhaps the best known face of the international anti-globalisation movement, said that France and Europe had to take a stand at the WTO talks in Cancun.

Anti-globalisation activists drink water on stretchers after becoming ill in the heat in Larzac
Searing temperatures led to some activists becoming ill
If not, then the private sector and the multinationals would start taking over ever greater parts of human society, he said.

The festival, with workshops, debates and rock concerts, took place on the Larzac plateau.

It is a symbolic place for the French Left, because it was here in the 1970s that intellectuals joined with local farmers to resist government attempts to turn the area into an army shooting range.

Three years ago tens of thousands came to the same spot for a rally in support of Jose Bove, when he was standing trial for breaking up a McDonalds fast food restaurant.

This year's rally also has a domestic French theme, with organisers trying to keep up the momentum of the pre-summer protests over pension reform and education.

For the alternative left in France - an increasingly powerful section of opinion which is taking advantage of the political eclipse of the socialists and the communists - the struggle in France is part of the same worldwide fight against creeping liberalisation.

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