ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

3 March 2003

By John Lichfield in Paris
The Independent, 03 March 2003

The world's second most famous moustache may soon have to spend its third - and longest - spell in jail. Jose Bove, the French small farmers' leader who has become one of the more visible heads of the anti-globalising movement, will know in the next few days whether he will be confined to prison for most of 2003.

Bove, 52, who favours a drooping handlebar moustache, almost as celebrated as Saddam Hussein's oblong hedge, has been ordered by an appeal court to serve 10 months in jail for two assaults on genetically modified crops.  More than 600,000 supporters of Bove - including 6,000 from Japan and hundreds in the US - have written to President Chirac asking him to pardon the farmers' leader.

Bove has already spent two terms in prison for an attack that wrecked a half-built McDonald's restaurant in 1999.

Farmers have traditionally got away with everything short of murder in France: blocking roads, smashing up lorries loaded with Spanish tomatoes, vandalising public buildings. Such actions have been inspired by the main farmers' union federation, the FNSEA.

French courts have started to take a tougher line with political and trades union violence but seem to have been especially harsh on Bove.

President Chirac faces a dilemma. Bove is popular. He is, however, detested by the Chirac-supporting main farming unions, which represent large, chemical-happy, hedge-destroying farms, not "traditional" small farms represented by Bove and his band.

The Elysee Palace says that it will not even consider a pardon for Bove until he visits the judge who decides how he should serve his sentence. Bove is refusing to see the judge until President Chirac decides whether to pardon him or not.

"This is the first time a union leader has been sentenced to such a long prison term in France for a legitimate action of civil disobedience," said Bove. "Last summer, I drove to prison in my tractor. This time, if they want to throw me in the Bastille, they have to come and get me."

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