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The BBC's Denis Murray
"The worst possible news, a body blow to the whole country"
 real 56k

The BBC's Kevin Connolly
"This is a major blow in a country where agriculture is a key industry"
 real 28k

The Irish Prime Minister Bertie Aherne
"This is a major disappointment"
 real 28k

Irish farmer Liam Woods
"We believe some of sheep came from England, through Northern Ireland"
 real 28k

Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 16:57 GMT
Blair meets crisis hit farmers
Co Louth farm, Republic of Ireland
Cumbria has suffered badly in the outbreak
Tony Blair was greeted by angry protests as he paid a flying visit to one of the areas worst hit by foot-and-mouth.

The Prime Minister stopped off in Carlisle, Cumbria, en route to the European summit in Stockholm.

As the total number of cases rose by 25 to 460, Mr Blair met farmers, representatives of the Cumbrian Tourist board, farming union officers and Ministry of Agriculture officials from the area.

Tony Blair has defended the handling of the crisis
Cumbria has been particularly badly hit by the outbreak, with agriculture and tourism facing potentially crippling losses.

Many farmers in the region have reacted angrily to proposals to cull healthy animals in the vicinity of infected farms, in a bid to control the spread of the disease.

The visit came as the Republic of Ireland reported its first case of the current outbreak.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said two samples taken from a flock of sheep at Proleek, near Ravensdale, in County Louth, close to the border with Northern Ireland, had tested positive for the livestock virus.

"Major disappointment"

Mr Ahern said: "This is a major disappointment, given the intensity of efforts of all sections of society here to keep the disease out of Ireland."

Irish Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh announced a temporary ban on all Irish exports of live animals and animal products.

He said the outbreak was connected with Northern Ireland's only confirmed case of the disease at Meigh in south Armagh.

The Republic has become the fourth European country infected by the livestock virus since the first cases came to light in the UK just over a month ago.

The other nations affected are the Netherlands and France.

There have also been reports of a suspected case in a herd of goats in Italy.

Foot-and-mouth reaches the Republic of Ireland
The first outbreak in the Republic of Ireland has been confirmed
The Dutch authorities have already slaughtered 20,000 animals and are considering a blanket vaccination programme.

In the UK, the scientist forecasting the size of the foot-and-mouth outbreak for the UK Government has predicted the number of cases will not peak until early May.

Professor Roy Anderson said that if the number of cases continued to increase at an average of two every hour, the epidemic would continue for months, possibly until August.

Conservative leader William Hague, visiting the badly-affected county of Devon, has said the government should be open to suggestions "because they are not at the moment in control of the crisis".

The UK crisis
454 confirmed cases - 19 on Thursday
272,824 animals slaughtered
162,667 awaiting slaughter
193,284 carcasses destroyed
"They have been a bit slow," he said. "I agree with the actions that they have taken, but they seem to be a bit behind the game all the time."

Earlier, Prime Minister Tony Blair has defended his handling of the crisis and said local elections planned for 3 May will go ahead.

He rejected calls from opposition parties to delay the elections in hard-hit areas such as Cumbria and Devon, though he said he would listen to concerns.

He told the House of Commons that a delay in the local polls would damage the tourist industry, giving an impression to the outside world that Britain was "closed for business".

A government campaign to limit the damage done to the rural industry and tourism by the foot-and-mouth crisis begins on Thursday.

Adverts in newspapers and a special telephone hotline will advise people about which parts of the countryside they can visit safely.

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22 Mar 01 | Scotland
Slaughter moves to Dumfriesshire
22 Mar 01 | Business
Ireland's 'foot-and-mouth' fears
02 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
Moves to stop spread of disease
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