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French farmers protest plan to release bears

BAGNERES-DE-BIGORRE, France — About 5,000 French farmers rang cowbells and set off firecrackers Saturday in the Pyrenees Mountains Saturday as they protested a plan to repopulate the bears in their region.

Environmental officials already have released two female Slovene bears, Palouma and Franska, in the area, and three more releases are planned. Farmers, in particular those who raise sheep, fear bear attacks on their livestock.

Many at the demonstration in the town of Bagneres-de-Bigorre wore T-shirts that read "No to the bears!" Some wore traditional berets popular in the southwestern Basque region. About 100 demonstrators came from across the border in Spain.

Brown bears completely disappeared from the Pyrenees in the 1980s.

As too few remained to ensure their survival, authorities released three bears in 1996. One of them, Boutxi, killed 165 sheep last year.

After the most recent bear releases, farmers lodged a complaint with France's highest administrative court.

But the court ruled this week that the government can go ahead and set free three more.