Freedom Now!

What sports a red hat, a white beard and a mining tool? Just ask any Frenchman: The answer is a garden gnome. France has long had a love affair with gnomes, with an estimated 12 million plastic and terra-cotta varieties decorating lawns and flower-beds around the country. Today, the wacky little creatures are the subject of international controversy that's making its way onto the Web.

The Garden Gnome Emancipation Movement (www.menj.com), for example, is calling for a ban on all plastic gnomes, asserting that only terra-cotta gnomes have souls.

The more revolutionary Garden Gnome Liberation Front, meanwhile, is taking things a step further by "kidnapping" thousands of gnomes all over France (including about 20 from a recent exhibition in Paris) with the goal of returning them to their natural woodland habitats and freeing them from the oppression of serving as lawn decor. Related incidents have also been reported in Belgium, Britain, Canada and Germany.

For all the latest gnome-related news, visit foundus.com/jani/gnomes/welcome.html, home of the World Wide Gnome Club.

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