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French vegan festival cancelled due to rising tensions

A vegan festival that was to take place on September 8 in Calais has been cancelled due to mounting tensions between activists and butchers in the Nord (Hauts-de-France).

The local mairie said the festival had been cancelled for security reasons, after several animal produce shop windows - including butcher shops, fishmongers and cheesemongers - were vandalised after dark in the past few months by militant vegans.

Shops in Lille had been especially hard hit, with producers asking the government for protection from violence since July last year.

Butchers and other artisanal producers had planned a protest to take place outside the festival hall, including a barbecue and other animal product food stalls.

Laurent Rigaud, president of the butcher-charcutier union in the Nord, said: “We had planned to hold a big barbecue outside. Clearly, we will not roll over in our region. We had to get visible. When they attack us, we have to speak out, and tell people what they [the activists] do at night.”

He added: “We cannot let [these people] talk about vegetables in the daytime and then say that it is fine for them to come back at night dressed in balaclavas to smash our windows.”

Arielle, member of the animal welfare association Farplace and organiser of the Calais vegan festival, distanced the organisation from the vandalism, and said she was disappointed that the festival had been cancelled.

She said: “The threats must have been violent enough that [the mairie] thought there was a real danger to visitors. We did a similar event in Nanterre in June, and there were no problems.

“We wanted to do something in the Nord: bad idea. We didn’t want to mock people, we just wanted to have some stands with information.”

She added: “We are totally non-violent. We reject violence against animals so why would we wish it on other living beings? It doesn’t hold up. We don’t want to stop butchers from working. It’s counter-productive. We can live next to each other without violence.”

Farplace France says it is now seeking a location where they can “guarantee” visitor safety.

But butchers such as Mr Rigaud say they will continue to be vigilant.

He said: “The Hauts-de-France will not be a playground for extremists. We will not let it happen. The worst thing would be if any more windows were smashed in the next few days. We will not let it stand.”

Talks are now being planned in the region, between producers and vegan associations, in a bid to reduce tensions and the risk of further conflict.

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