The French small farmers' leader and anti-globalisation campaigner José Bové went to prison in style yesterday.
Amid a media caravan reminiscent of a slow-motion Tour de France, he drove the first tractor in a procession from his farm near Millau in the southern hills of the Massif Central to a jail near Montpellier, 60 miles away.
At the end of a seven-hour journey, punctuated with political demonstrations and media declarations, Bové gave himself up to the prison authorities. He has to serve a much delayed three-month sentence for organising the destruction by 200 sheep-farmers using sledgehammers and crowbars of a half-built McDonald's restaurant in Millau three years ago.
Bové is a far-left politician-turned-sheep farmer who has become one of the most visible leaders of the international movement against globalisation in the past three years. He announced that he would go on hunger strike in jail, to protest against what he called the anti-social policies of the newly elected French centre-right government.
There had been a widespread expectation that President Jacques Chirac would pardon Bové, whose sentence was deferred until after the presidential and parliamentary elections held in the past eight weeks. Instead, the farmers' leader with a drooping moustache, a style now favoured by men all over rural France, was told that he must start his sentence this week.
Bové's supporters were attempting to portray him yesterday as the first left-wing martyr to the authoritarian attitudes of the new government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin.
The Socialists, who were heavily defeated in the second round of the parliamentary election last Sunday, said they had evidence that the Raffarin government was planning an amnesty for crimes associated with political fund-raising. Depending on its wording, an amnesty could end the half-dozen investigations into corruption at the Paris town hall up until 1995, when President Chirac was Mayor.
Socialist leaders in Paris, and Bové supporters on yesterday's tractor rally, said such an amnesty would contrast sharply with the insistence of the Raffarin government that Bové must serve his prison sentence for his "political" attack on McDonald's.
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