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"The donation will come from money the Prince raises for charity"
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Wednesday, 14 March, 2001, 23:36 GMT
Prince donates 500,000 for farmers
Sheep farm at Hatherleigh, Devon
Much of the countryside is virtually cut off
The Prince of Wales is donating 500,000 to farmers hit by the foot-and-mouth crisis.

His move came as the Prime Minister continued to resist pressure to put off the elections due in early May.

The deepening crisis has prompted further calls from farmers' leaders and local politicians to postpone the English council elections due on 3 May.

Even those whose farms have so far escaped the disease have rightly had severest restrictions put upon the movement of their stock

Prince Charles
Wednesday saw 25 new foot-and-mouth cases in the UK confirmed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff), bringing the overall total to 230.

Prince Charles said six charities would benefit from his donation, which was aimed at easing the plight of farmers under severe strain from the "dreaded outbreak".

He said: "Many farmers throughout the UK are facing desperate hardship at the moment.

"Even those whose farms have so far escaped the disease have rightly had severest restrictions put upon the movement of their stock."

Prince of Wales
Prince Charles wants to help farmers in dire straits

A St James's Palace spokeswoman said the money was from income raised by Prince Charles's charitable activities.

The Prince said: "I want to do everything I can to help these farmers and their families to keep their heads above water.

Suicide risk

The Prince, who had been criticised for demanding the rent due on farms in his Duke of Cornwall estate, added: "This dreadful outbreak is also imposing severe stress and anxiety on many individuals and farmers - there can be no doubt that the risk of suicides among rural communities is heightened at the moment.

"Having someone to talk to who understands the problems can make all the difference."

On BBC2's Newsnight programme Environment minister Michael Meacher welcomed the contribution.

May 3 is the day widely tipped as Tony Blair's choice for the general election.

At the moment it is the intention to continue with the local elections on 3 May

Michael Meacher

Nigel Henson, Director of Communications for the Countryside Alliance said he hoped the Prime Minister would make allowances for the fact that rural Britain is facing its biggest crisis for 30 years.

He said the timing of any election should be "in the interest of the electorate, not in the interest of the government".

But Mr Meacher said there was no intention to change the date as yet saying the issue depended on "the future course of the outbreak".

You can't ask farmers to think about an election when they're up to their eyes in uncertainty and fear

Peter Chalke, leader of Wiltshire County Council
"At the moment it is the intention to continue with the local elections on 3 May," he said.

National Farmers' Union president Ben Gill said it would be "totally unacceptable" to have a ballot on 3 May while country people were effectively disenfranchised.

"You can't ask farmers to think about an election when they're up to their eyes in uncertainty and fear," warned Peter Chalke, leader of Wiltshire County Council in one of the worst-hit areas.

In the Commons this afternoon, Mr Blair announced a programme of "intensified slaughter" of tens of thousands of sheep to try to control the spread of foot-and-mouth.

"We are looking at how we step up the slaughter in those areas most directly affected," he told parliament.

"It is entirely right that we look to see how we take more urgent measures in those areas."

He said it might be a "sensible precaution" to cull animals which had come into contact with the disease even if they showed no symptoms themselves.

Number of cases: 230
Livestock slaughtered:
131, 550
Due for slaughter: 47,000
Agriculture Minister Nick Brown will make a statement to the House of Commons on Thursday outlining the latest "pre-emptive strike" plans to eliminate the disease.

The government pledged on Wednesday to do all it could to help a "devastated" tourism industry from losing a potential 250m a week as it approached the main summer season.

Culture Secretary Chris Smith said bookings from within the UK and from overseas were being cancelled just at the time of year when trade usually picked up.

"Rural Britain is not closed as some would have us believe," he told MPs in a Commons statement.

"We have to make sure that as soon as the outbreak is over the message of 'come back to the countryside' must be made loud and clear."

Rural Britain is not closed as some would have us believe

Chris Smith

Brushing aside questions of compensation, Mr Smith said the best thing to do at the moment was to encourage people to go to the countryside for safe activities.

The disease has now spread to mainland Europe which has prompted Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, and dozens of other countries to impose a temporary ban on the import of all livestock and meat products from the European Union.

France had hoped to escape the outbreak with stringent measures, but confirmed its first case on Tuesday.

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See also:

14 Mar 01 | Talking Politics
Jobless fall overshadowed by farms crisis
14 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Government resists election delay
14 Mar 01 | Scotland
EU urged to lead disease control
14 Mar 01 | Other Sports
Cheltenham set for Easter week
13 Mar 01 | UK
Disease total tops 200
13 Mar 01 | UK
Is Britain to blame?
12 Mar 01 | UK
A farmer's fears
12 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
Fear of second NI outbreak
14 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Rural Britain 'still open' says minister
14 Mar 01 | UK
UK foot-and-mouth round-up
14 Mar 01 | Europe
EU attacks disease blockades
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