AIX-LES-BAINS, France, Feb. 19, 1997, (Reuter) - Faces flushed withwine and emotion, hundreds of separatists in France's border region of Savoygathered in a casino Wednesday to plot independence from Paris in a secessionistextravaganza.
Musicians pounded out separatist songs and wine flowed at tables laden witha five-course lunch and local cheese as the independence-seekers celebratedtheir ``national day'' at a banquet in this small town near the border withSwitzerland.
The red-and-white flag of ``Sovereign Savoy'' fluttered outside the turn-of-the-centurybuilding where the ill-assorted crowd gathered -- women in furs, beardedintellectuals in leather jackets, local businessmen and elderly men wearinganoraks.
Patrice Abeille, leader of the Savoy League which launched its secessionistbid in 1995 in the lucrative regions of upper and lower Savoy in the FrenchAlps, solemnly told the revellers of plans to proclaim a new state.
Wearing a badge of the United Nations on his collar next to one of the ``republic''of Savoy, the teacher-turned-secessionist leader then appealed for recognitionfrom the world body.
``We want a free Savoy. We want the United Nations to support us,'' he said.
``We want to be free. We will convince the majority of people here. Whenwe do that, a referendum will be necessary.''
Besides giving his supporters ``Sovereign Savoy'' identity cards and carplates, Abeille has instituted a constitution, a few governors' officesand also managed to win over three of the local mayors.
The only response from the French authorities has been to fine motoristsusing the unlawful number plates.
The secessionists, who say France annexed the region in 1860, want to setup an independent republic with a decentralized democracy based on the SwissFederation model, but they have yet to set up a parliament or a local policeforce.
Neither has the movement its own currency or taxes in one of the richestregions of France with tourism and industries.
Abeille claimed the League would soon have 5,000 supporters and that itwas growing by several hundred members a month -- figures which could notbe confirmed independently.