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Elephants left Tuileries, but French circus owners battle for right to stay

When the French are upset, they demonstrate. That explains the elephants this week in the Tuileries, the well-known garden in the center of Paris.

In a lightening early-morning raid, some 100 fairground stall-holders and circus organizers illegally moved into the famous parkgrounds in front of the Louvre. They tricked park guards into opening the gates and then stormed past them with their trucks and two elephants. Up went a 160-foot ferris wheel, shooting galleries, bumper cars.

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The entertainers were protesting a government ban on fairs in the center of the city. Fairs were held regularly in the Tuileries until 1976 when an Army parade, complete with tanks, caused great damage to the park.

``We kept asking the government for permission to return and they never answered,'' said Gilles Campion, leader of the Committee to Save the French Fairground Entertainer, outside his bumper car stand. ``So we decided to act ourselves. Without fairs here, we're in desperate shape.''

Mr. Campion explained that the recession had hurt the estimated 50,000 fairground owners. He also expressed fear about negotiations between the government and Walt Disney Productions to build a new amusement park just east of Paris.

The government didn't laugh at these complaints. The Ministry of Culture, which owns the gardens, started court action to evict the trespassers. Police surrounded the gardens, threatening an attack.

``We would have fought,'' says Jean-Michel Lacourte from his lottery stand. ``We were ready to do anything.'' Their determination forced the government to rethink its strategy. It has authorized the entertainers to stay until Jan. 4.

Business is booming. As many as 10,000 Parisians crowded into the improvised fairground last Sunday. Campion said he made more money that day than in any other single day since he began running his bumper cars 10 years ago.

There was only one problem: the poor elephants. After leading the charge, the police evicted them from the park with a dramatic counteroffensive. ``You can't win every battle,'' sighed Campion.

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