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19/06/02 . by Jon Henley in Paris . The Guardian . UK
French folk hero goes to jail
José Bové, the French sheep farmer and figurehead of the world anti-globalisation movement, drove to jail on a tractor yesterday to begin a 90-day sentence for vandalising a McDonald's restaurant.
Followed by a long line of tractors and police cars and acclaimed en route by cheering crowds, the folk hero rolled through the southern French country side at about 15mph, ensuring that he missed his 8.30 appointment at Villeneuve-les-Maguelone prison, near Montpellier, by several hours.
Bové, 49, walked the last few hundred yards, dressed like a convict and chained to the other nine members of his militant Peasants' Confederation also convicted of ransacking the half-built fast food restaurant in nearby Millau in July 1999.
"I have been preparing for this moment for some time," he said. "The support has been heartwarming. We are coming in a group to show the fight against globalisation is not the business of a single person."
Bové exhausted the lengthy French appeals process last year. He was sentenced in 2000 for the attack, which was mounted as a symbolic protest against the punitive US import duties on tradi tional French farm produce , such as foie gras, Dijon mustard and the Roquefort cheese he produces on his farm on the Larzac plateau.
Officials delayed calling him to prison until after the presidential and parliamentary election marathon, which ended on Sunday.
"They're pretty stupid to be doing something like this," Bové said - meaning the new centre-right government which has finally executed the sentence.
"They've just been elected with a huge majority, no major problems on the horizon, and the first thing they do is decide to send me to prison.
"It's as if they actually wanted to mobilise the protest movement."
Banners outside the court supported Bovés struggle against la malbouffe (lousy grub) and in favour of non-industrial food and fair trade for the world's small farmers.
"It's utterly absurd," Ulrich Schalchli of the magistrate's union SM said. "This was a symbolic act, based on a legitimate political discourse. The justice system has sent prison someone who everyone knows shouldn't be there."
Because he spent 19 days in jail while under investigation, Bové is likely to be released in 40 days, providing he behaves himself.
Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited