Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Monday, September 23, 2002

Tens of Thousands Demonstrate in London for Rural Rights

Tens of thousands of people from across Britain marched through central London on Sunday to stage aprotest against an official ban on hunting and highlight the needs of rural communities.


Tens of thousands of people from across Britain marched through central London on Sunday to stage aprotest against an official ban on hunting and highlight the needs of rural communities.

The main focus of the protest is opposition to a ban on huntingwith dogs in England and Wales, but a wide range of other grievances from rural communities are also being linked with the demonstration.

An extra 1,600 police were put on duty for the "Liberty and Livelihood" rally, which the British media billed as the largest civil liberties march the country has ever seen.

Police said the event, officially called the march for liberty and livelihood, is the biggest demonstration in the capital in recent years.

The marches have been organized by the Countryside Alliance, formed originally to oppose a ban on fox hunting and other forms of hunting with dogs.

The organization says it represents all rural people who feel their way of life is under threat. Richard Burge of the Countryside Alliance said the protesters had a wide range of concerns, including rural poverty, housing and policing.

The marchers carried placards reading that "freedom to choose" and "protecting flocks not fox". Among the numerous anti-Blair posters, one says "Blair: More of a threat to the countryside thanHitler or Saddam."

March organizers said they were hoping to draw attention to other grievances, including the decline of village shops and pubs and the lack of affordable housing in rural areas.

A demonstrator from Wales told Xinhua that "now the government bans hunting of fox, then they will ban shooting and later fishing." Another middle-aged farmer taking his wife and children in the march said that "we want to draw attention of the government to our concerns".

Also, supporters insist fox hunting is an inalienable right anda rural tradition which helps control countryside pests and provides thousands of jobs.

The march is being supported by the National Farmers Union (NFU), which claims British farming is in danger of meltdown.

Half the marchers set off from Hyde Park in central London on, while the others began at nearby Blackfriars Bridge with the two groups merging along Whitehall before ending up in Parliament Square.

A big electronic counting board installed at the end of whitehall street showed more than 220,000 marchers passed the counting point at 1:00 GMT in the afternoon. Organizers said the march starting this morning would last about 8 hours.

The Countryside Alliance, which brought 285,000 people to the streets in 1998 in Britain's largest march of the 20th century, said Sunday's demonstration looked set to be even bigger.

Fox hunting is one of Britain's most bitter political issues, with a great number of country dwellers in favor of the activity but the majority of parliament and people in general against it.

A ban has proved elusive, however. Last year, the left-dominated House of Commons voted for it, but the House of Lords, rooted deeply in the land-owning aristocracy, rejected it.

In England and Wales, there are 318 registered hound packs, or hunts, most of which track fox, although hare, deer, mink and stagalso are hunted by dogs.

Downing Street and St James Palace declined to comment and Blair's official spokesman said: "The government continues to govern for the whole country, rural and urban alike."

March supporters have flown in from as far afield as New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United States and across Europe.

The event had been planned for last year, but was postponed because of the break of the foot-and-mouth disease.

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