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PARIS-French marketers have suddenly found themselves hostage to their government's defense policy, as thousands of consumers, retailers and even political leaders around the world have called for a boycott of French goods to protest the country's resumption of underground nuclear testing.

Since President Jacques Chirac's mid-June announcement that France would conduct eight tests in the next year on a Polynesian atoll, reaction has evolved from angered statements by antipode governments and environmental groups to mass marches and boycott efforts.

With major campaigns to shun French products already under way in New Zealand and Australia-where sales of French wines dropped by 40% and French spirits have been also badly hit-Japanese politicians delayed their appeals for a boycott until after next month's 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing.

Cordiant's Saatchi & Saatchi Australia is preparing a print campaign for French dailies that urges readers to write President Chirac to demand that he reverse his decision.

While the boycott threat menaces all exported French goods, none are at higher risk than luxury goods and spirits: terrible news for LVMH, whose affiliates have been raking up sales of Louis Vuitton bags, Moet et Chandon champagne and Hennessey cognac throughout Asia, and particularly in Japan.

Like LVMH, Elf-Sanofi-owners of perfume Yves Saint Laurent and a wide range of cosmetic lines-declined comment on the boycott. Businesses ranging from Hermes, Chanel, Peugeot, and L'Oreal to makers of French wine and cheese are also feeling heat from crusading anti-nuke consumers.

"It is true that individuals are taking action of their own," one French official said, "but we will have no idea of how serious that is until we have a quarterly business report." The report will appear in September, coinciding with the first scheduled nuclear test, expected to further enrage South Pacific nations.

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