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Thinned-Down José Bové Ready to Rejoin the Fight
Published on Friday, August 2, 2002 in the Guardian of London
Thinned-Down Bové Ready to Rejoin the Fight
French scourge of global business leaves jail after hunger strike
by Jon Henley in Paris

France's unlikely folk hero, the walrus-mustached sheep farmer and crusader against globalization José Bové, was given a rapturous reception by 800 cheering supporters yesterday when he emerged from prison after 44 days behind bars.

Bové, who was serving the remainder of a three-month sentence for wrecking a partly built McDonald's restaurant in the south of France three years ago, denounced the new center-right government for sending him, a trade union leader, to prison, and said he would continue his fight against la malbouffe (lousy food), come what may.

José Bové
French farmer José Bové, center smiling, is surrounded by supporters after he was released from prison in Villeneuve-les-Maguelone near Montpellier, southern France, Thursday Aug. 1, 2002, after serving 40 days behind bars for ransacking a McDonald's restautant under construction. (AP Photo/Bob Edme)
Looking a lot thinner after being on hunger strike for four weeks at Villeneuve-les-Maguelone jail near Montpellier, the leader of the radical Confédération Paysanne, thanked the crowd for its support, which had "turned this intolerable sentence into a resistance movement".

Beaming broadly, he added: "Our struggle is just starting. We must denounce the arbitrary actions of a government that puts trade union leaders into jail.

"Prison is abominable, but I was here for all of you, so that helped me."

He said he had received about 2,000 letters a day from well-wishers during his spell in prison: where he may well return later this year if another French court finds him guilty of two incidents of destroying genetically modified maize.

The verdict is expected on September 16.

His attack on the McDonald's in Millau in August 1999 was prompted by America's decision to impose punitive import tariffs on such French specialties as Dijon mustard, foie gras and Roquefort cheese (which Mr Bové produces). Washington was retaliating against the European Union's refusal to lift a ban on US hormone-treated beef.

"We had no other way to denounce this scandal," he said at a huge picnic outside the prison immediately after his release.

"The World Trade Organization had just ordered Europe to accept hormone-treated beef. It was illegal, but when legality is illegitimate, it becomes perfectly legitimate to move into illegality."

The once-portly campaigner, a media-savvy fixture at anti-globalization rallies and WTO protests from Seattle to Genoa, drank only water and one glass of orange juice a day for almost a month in prison and lost about 11kg (24Ib).

He described his time in jail as an "unbearable experience unfit for any human being", and said he now planned to take a week's much-needed holiday on his sailing boat with his partner, Ghislaine Ricez, to recover.

The justice minister, Dominique Perben, admitted yesterday that Bové's growing popularity posed something of a problem to the French judicial system.

"He's an awkward customer for the jail services," he said. "But he's served his sentence, and he's getting out. I hope he has fewer problems with the justice system in future."

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002


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