Sat, Feb 03, 2007 - Page 6 News List

French activist Jose Bove enters presidential race

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

He is the walrus-mustached farmer whose fight against McDonald's and globalization saw him a hailed as a modern-day Asterix leading the Gauls. But on Thursday Jose Bove left his sheep farm in southern France, strolled into a labor exchange in a rundown north Paris suburb, took a draw on his trademark pipe and announced he was running for president.

The self-styled country bumpkin who rose to stardom in 1999 for dismantling a half-built McDonald's in the fight against "crap food" is now coming to the rescue of the riot-hit concrete jungles of France's urban housing estates.

"I will be the spokesman of the voiceless," he said on Thursday.

`Free market greed'

Bove is claimed as the last internationally recognizable French icon leading a battle against international fat cats, genetically modified food and the evils of liberal free market greed.

Described as both a Robin Hood and a John Wayne figure, he has traveled from Seattle and Genoa to Brazil and the Zapatista enclaves of Mexico to be a voice of the "little people," oppressed world farmers.

But the 53-year-old grandfa-ther's campaign for the presidency, on a ticket of speaking up for the people, defending the environment and fighting globalization, appears to some on the extreme left like an act of folly.

In recent weeks around 70 percent of French people were against him running according to one poll, and he stands to gain less than 3 percent of the vote. Initially, he wanted to unite a coalition of French anti-liberals, but when that failed he decided to run himself.

Online petition

In three weeks Bove got the backing of more than 30,000 people in an online petition. He is partly driven on his successful rally of the no vote in the French referendum on the EU constitution in 2005.

But he will have to work to gain the required backing of 500 politicians. He could also be the first person to run for president from behind bars, as the court of the appeal decides next week whether to send him to prison for four months for sabotaging GM crops.

Detractors claim Bove is an opportunist who was born into a bourgeois family, an activist who learnt to farm, rather than the genuine emblem of a peasants' revolt. But those around him describe a pacifist hero.

"He's walking in Gandhi's footsteps in his own way. There isn't any personal ambition about him," said Francois Roux, his lawyer of 30 years.

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