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Saturday, 21 September, 2002, 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK
MPs 'are listening' to countryside
Nicky Driver, executive officer of Hunting and the Community
One protester prepares placards for Sunday's march
The government is listening to the concerns of people living in the country, the rural affairs minister has insisted ahead of Sunday's countryside march in London.

Alun Michael said the government recognised the countryside had gone through "a horrendous time".

"If the message is that the countryside has massive problems, the answer is yes, and we are with you on that," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

But he said the focus of the march, fox-hunting, was an "extremely divisive issue which affects a minority of people".

Threats

And he warned the small number of pro-hunting extremists that "direct action" would not change the "facts, principles and arguments" on hunting.

BBC reporter Robin Chrystal met four pro-hunt supporters in a West Country pub who claimed they were prepared to go to any lengths to protect their way of life.

The men, who refused to give their names, said their entire livelihoods depended on fox hunting.


In a democracy it is ridiculous to think that people can threaten and that that is the means of getting your way

Alun Michael

"If you have a major part of your life taken away what are you going to do?" one of them said on Today.

They threatened to take action against MPs who had homes in the country - "We know where they live," they said.

And they even threatened the prime minister's wife Cherie Blair, who they said, was behind the government's anti-hunting stance.

The next target, they said, was next week's Labour party conference in Blackpool, where they would bring the town to gridlock.

Policing

In response, Mr Michael said: "In a democracy it is ridiculous to think that people can threaten and that that is the means of getting your way.

"I don't think Parliament or Labour MPs will be impressed by being threatened."


This march will be a truly global event

Adrian Yalland, Countryside Alliance

Organisers on Sunday's march, the Countryside Alliance, say they are expecting at least 250,000 people to take to the streets.

The parade will be the biggest British civil rights demonstration in living memory and is expected to bring large parts of central London to a standstill for up to six hours.

Those taking part in the protest - called the March for Liberty and Livelihood - are demanding the right to continue fox hunting.

They also want to draw attention to problems they see in rural areas including unemployment, poverty and crime.

Countryside Alliance spokesman Adrian Yalland said: "This march will be a truly global event."

Open in new window : March Route
Liberty and Livelihood March

Scotland Yard have committed 1,600 extra officers to police the march.

But Deputy Assistant Commissioner Andy Trotter said he expected it to pass off peacefully.

"We don't need too many police officers because we have had excellent co-operation from the Countryside Alliance," he said.

He warned there would be "considerable congestion" across the whole of the capital.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Adrian Yalland of the Countryside Alliance:
"Rural communities are falling apart"
Labour MP Alun Michael:
"No one helps by suggesting there is an urban-rural divide"

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Analysis

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IN DEPTH

TALKING POINT
THE MARCH ROUTE


See also:

10 Sep 02 | Politics
12 Apr 02 | Politics
21 Mar 02 | Politics
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