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French Farmers Protest With Elan

From Reuters

Up to 200,000 French farmers marched through Paris on Sunday, handing out free wine, cheese and sausage in a colorful and largely peaceful protest against falling incomes and a flood of East European imports.

They urged the Socialist government to resist European Community reforms that they said are forcing many farmers off the land.

“This extraordinary show of strength from the countryside raises essential questions about French society, which the voters cannot ignore,” said Raymond Lacombe, head of the FNSEA farmers’ union. “Thanks to you we have sown a grain of hope.”

Parisians and tourists gathered as the farmers offered regional specialties from red-and-white striped stalls around the city. They drank champagne on the Champs-Elysees and nibbled Roquefort cheese sandwiches outside the Pantheon in the Latin Quarter.

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Former President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, usually regal, was seen playing the accordion with country musicians.

The protesters later gathered for a procession that went past the site of the Bastille, the fortress destroyed at the start of the French Revolution in 1789.

The government, fearing a repetition of the violence that has scarred rural France in the last few weeks, deployed about 10,000 police on the streets of Paris.

Conservative leader Jacques Chirac dodged a bottle and several cans hurled at him by protesters.

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