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The BBC's James Coomarasamy in Millau
"It seemed less like the start of a trial than a triumphant homecoming"
 real 28k

Friday, 30 June, 2000, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Massive demo at Big Mac trial
Tractor, defendants and supporters
The defendants went to court on a tractor-drawn cart
Thousands of demonstrators have put on a festive display of support for a radical farmers' leader facing charges in the French town of Millau for wrecking a McDonald's restaurant.

Jose Bové and nine other members of his farmers' union were driven to the courthouse in a cart pulled by a tractor.


Jose Bove
Bové has become a folk hero, especially for farmers
They are accused of carrying out an attack last August on a half-built McDonald's branch in Millau, which lies in a region known for its pungent Roquefort cheese. They were protesting against US duties on French cheeses.

The proceedings began in a carnival atmosphere as thousands of anti-globalisation protesters, environmentalists, trade unionists, students and other campaigners crammed into the market town, in southern France.


This is not just about food. It is about the struggle of small people, leading simple lives, to free themselves from the dictatorship of the multi-nationals

Protester Christian Dignac

Streets were festooned with banners and crammed with stalls selling local produce and anti-globalisation propaganda.

Drummers hammered out a steady beat to add to the atmosphere, while other protesters held aloft banners saying "The World Is Not For Sale".

"The party is wonderful, we must continue our fight this weekend with joy," Mr Bové, 47, told the crowd.

Modern-day Asterix

Mr Bové, a heavily-moustached sheep farmer, has been compared to the French cartoon character Asterix, who fights against the legions of the Roman Empire.

He has become a folk hero in France for his crusade against globalisation.

Demonstrators in Millau
Campaigners against the global marketplace see it as a test case

Correspondents say Mr Bové hopes to use the trial as a political platform for his campaign.

The court was expected to continue hearing the arguments on Saturday, and is expected to deliver a judgement later this summer.

Mr Bové - who spent three weeks in custody last year - faces up to five years' imprisonment and a maximum fine of about $71,500.

Demonstrators arrived on special trains or drove through the night to set up camp around Millau.

'Seattle-on-the-Tarn'

Mr Bové has dubbed the town "Seattle-on-the-Tarn" - a reference to the local river and the massive anti-globalisation protests he attended during the Seattle summit of the World Trade Organisation last year.


He is one of the last courageous, natural, honest voices left

French singer Francis Cabrel
"Any sentence would be unacceptable," Mr Bové said on Monday. "At any rate, the verdict will be political."

A giant screen was installed near the court to relay pictures of the trial to his chanting supporters clad in a variety of costumes.

There were a number of groups backing different causes.

These included defenders of the local Occitan language, campaigners for the rights of indigenous Mexicans, a group representing immigrants in poor French city suburbs, the anarchist party, and Christian Rural Youth.

Mr Bové's attack on the American burger chain came in the midst of a tit-for-tat food war, which began when France banned hormone-injected American beef that was not labelled.

The US responded by adding a 100% tax on Roquefort cheese and other French delicacies.

Forums and concerts

The Confederation Paysanne, the farmers' union Mr Bové heads, fights for small producers. It is organising 14 open-air forums and a free rock concert in Millau on Friday night.

The forums will debate a range of subjects from food safety to financial institutions and will host American speaker Lori Wallach, president of Global Trade Watch.

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See also:

30 Jun 00 | Europe
France's farm crusader
16 Sep 99 | Europe
Chirac slams US food domination
29 Jun 00 | Business
Agriculture talks falter
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