MONTELIMAR, France - Protesters led by the Peasants Confederation of radical farming leader Jose Bove's destroyed two cornfields in southeastern France on Sunday as part of a long-running battle against genetically-modified crops.
"I ask you not to use violence against the security forces but to be violent to the crops," an organizer told the 150-strong crowd gathered at the fields near Montelimar.
"If you're detained by police, you have nothing to say. I'm counting on you to leave the fields clean and in good shape," he told the throng, equipped with pruning hooks, sickles, secateurs and other farm tools.
Bove, who has attained folk hero status in France because of his high-profile opposition to globalization, called in July for a campaign of "civil disobedience" unless the government ordered the destruction of all genetically-modified crops being grown for testing by August 12.
Scenes at Sunday's protest soured as demonstrators compared the farmers who are growing the crops for biotech giant Monsanto to the French who collaborated with the Nazis during World War II.
"We had collaborators in 1940 and we have them today," an activist shouted.
Within a few minutes, the assembled men, women and children had moved into the 1,000-square-metre (1,250-square-yard) field and cut the corn before the police, who had been warned by the owners, had time to reach the scene.
Protesters from the Peasants Confederation, the Green movement and the anti-globalisation association ATTAC also erected placards reading "No to GMs," "GMs = Danger" and "Contaminated Zone".
Regional Green Party official Jean-Marie Chausson said the tests, mostly to study the plants' resistance to weed-killer, "should at least be carried out in confined spaces", rather than in open fields.
The protest was immediately condemned by Monsanto who said in a statement the action was "illegal and an act of public delinquency", adding that its research had been hindered by the crop destruction.
French seed companies have asked local authorities to stop the destruction of the test crops in order to protect their research.
Bove was sentenced in March to a 10-month suspended prison term and fined for destroying a field of genetically-modified rice plants in 1999.
The sheep farmer turned activist has justified his action as "a battle for the future".
Copyright © 2001 AFP