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The BBC's Terry Stiasny
"It was one of the last chances for rural business people to lobby parliament before the election"
 real 56k

Exmoor campaigners Judy Carless and Mike Ellicott
set to march to Downing Street
 real 56k

Wednesday, 9 May, 2001, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
Rural firms protest over disease aid
Protesters from Cumbria arriving in London
Protesters from Cumbria arriving in London
Representatives of countryside businesses have staged a rally in Westminster calling for more financial help to recover from the foot-and-mouth crisis.

About 200 protesters from around the country gathered in Parliament Square before lobbying MPs and handing in a 12bn "invoice" for the income they say they have lost.

Earlier on Wednesday, Environment Minister Michael Meacher launched a long term recovery plan for rural tourism.

Foot-and-mouth facts
Total number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in the UK 1,574 - 5 on Wednesday
2,471,000 animals slaughtered
89,000 animals awaiting slaughter
44,000 carcasses awaiting disposal
He announced the government would bring forward rate relief for hard pressed rural businesses in the West Country and other rural areas hit by the crisis.

Mr Meacher has already promised 24m in grant aid saying the cash would be targeted at the areas most badly affected by the outbreak.

The money will help to create a Rural Business Recovery Fund, with a total of 50m available to help small businesses recover and rebuild.

But the protesters in central London carried placards bearing slogans such as: "Rural economy is in meltdown" and "Take a 95% pay cut and see how it feels".

Another, in a reference to the calf which was saved from slaughter, said: "You saved Phoenix: now save Cumbria".

Not one penny is coming through to the grassroots of the economies back at home.

Ian Mitchell
Protesters came from Dumfries and Galloway, Cumbria, the Yorkshire Dales, Anglesey, Snowdonia, Powys, Exmoor, Devon and Dartmoor.

Ian Mitchell, chairman of the Powys Rural Businesses Campaign, told the gathering the government had "shut down the countryside with no scientific evidence and no regard for the effect on tourism".

He continued: "Not one penny is coming through to the grassroots of the economies back at home.


"We have produced the report for Michael Meacher, it's on his desk, they can no longer ask for hard evidence - they have it."

John Walker, of the Cumbria Countryside Alliance, said: "We're here to lobby our government.

"Parliament is about to be dissolved, we must keep the pressure on.

"We need to look forward to compensation, we need to think about regeneration."

Call for loans

Conservative MP Tom King went to see the protesters, and told reporters: "The effect of foot-and-mouth has been, in some areas, a complete closedown.

"It is no good offering people loans, high rates of interest which will leave them with even more burdens of debt.

"They must give interest free loans to people who need it."

Four new cases of foot-and-mouth disease have been confirmed by the Ministry of Agriculture on Wednesday. They are all in Cumbria.

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Tourism 'devastated' by crisis
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