Sheep Farmers Battle ‘McDomination’
MILLAU, France (AP) _ Thousands of supporters and activists gathered in a show of solidarity with a French sheep farmer who went on trial Friday for vandalizing a local McDonald’s, turning him into a national symbol of anti-globalization.
Jose Bove was driven to the courthouse in Millau with his nine co-defendants in a wagon pulled by a tractor. More than 15,000 demonstrators converged outside the courthouse and elsewhere in this southern French town, police said.
``This is only the beginning, we will continue the fight! We will win!″ chanted the crowd.
The attack by Bove, a sheep farmer and local leader of the radical Farmers’ Confederations union, made McDonald’s a main target in a wave of protests last year, decrying the fast-food chain as a symbol of American trade ``hegemony″ and economic globalization.
``The dismantling of McDonald’s was a strong action, symbolic and non-violent,″ Bove said Friday, calling the fast-food giant a ``provocation.″
A Millau court began hearing arguments Friday, and the hearing was to continue Saturday. The 10 farmers each face up to five years in jail and a $72,500 fine if convicted for partially dismantling the McDonald’s branch while it was under construction in August.
In front of the targeted McDonald’s, a group of sheep farmers set up a stand Friday where passers-by could buy a slab of Roquefort cheese, a glass of wine and a sticker denouncing globalization for $1.50. The restaurant was to be closed Friday and Saturday.
Bove’s battle began last year when France refused to import hormone-laced U.S. beef unless it was labeled. In response, Washington added a 100 percent tax to Roquefort, foie gras and other French delicacies. Bove’s sheep produce milk that helps make Roquefort.
He has said his main targets are the World Trade Organization, multinational corporations and governments that push scientifically engineered food. He says the organizations crush small-time producers who insist on quality and taste.
Before the trial got under way Friday, police cordoned off the area around the court and closed surrounding streets to traffic. Truckloads of riot police were positioned outside the courthouse.
The town had a country fair ambiance, though the crowd was half the size expected by organizers. At 14 open-air forums led by activists from around the world, activists gave speeches denouncing multinationals and industrial cuisine. A free rock concert was planned to entertain demonstrators, who began arriving in busloads at sunrise.
Among the scheduled speakers over the weekend were Lori Wallach, president of U.S.-based Global Trade Watch, and Bill Christison, who heads the Washington-based National Family Farm Coalition, as well as representatives from the International League of Human Rights and French politicians.
Bove spent three weeks in jail last year until he decided to post bail.
Although he chose McDonald’s only as a symbol of a larger foe, others attacked the franchise chain across France. In April, Brittany separatists blew up a McDonald’s, killing a young woman who managed it.
Bove has served an unrelated eight-month suspended sentence for plowing up a field planted in transgenic corn.
A parade of defense witnesses at the trial is to include South American farmers and anti-globalization economists. Bove has promised to walk out of the trial if any were excluded.