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Saturday, 21 September, 2002, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Marchers gather for London protest
A sign next to the M40 in Oxfordshire advertising Sunday's march
Thousands are expected in London on Sunday
Hundreds of thousands of countryside supporters are heading to London to take part in what is predicted to be the biggest British civil rights protest in living memory.

Police are putting on an extra 1,600 officers to cope with the crowds - expected to number up to 250,000 - that will march through the capital on Sunday.

It isn't about hunting and field sports, but about all rural affairs

Robert Sturdy, Conservative MEP for Eastern region

The Liberty and Livelihood march - organised by the Countryside Alliance to highlight rural issues - is expected to bring many parts of London to a standstill.

On Saturday evening, the alliance will also celebrate the end of a continuous vigil in the capital's Parliament Square by greeting baton runners arriving from Scotland.

'Truly global'

The end of the vigil - which has been manned by countryside supporters on a 24-hour basis since May - is itself expected to draw a large crowd.

Ahead of the march, Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael claimed the government was listening to the concerns of countryside people.

He warned against the pro-hunting lobby taking direct action during the march, saying it would do nothing to alter the "facts, principles and arguments" on hunting.

The Countryside Alliance says it will be a "truly global" event.

Open in new window : March Route
Liberty and Livelihood March

Supporters are flying in from as far afield as New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the US and across Europe.

It also says that supporters abroad are holding sympathy marches.

Protesters will be demanding the right to continue fox hunting.

But they will also be pressing for action to help the economy of country areas, highlighting issues such as rural unemployment, poverty and crime.

The Livestock Auctioneers Association (LAA) is demanding an easing of the rule brought in during the foot-and-mouth outbreak, which bans farmers from moving animals for 20 days after they have passed through a market.

The LAA says that since the foot-and-mouth outbreak, more than 20 markets have closed and there is concern that the 150 remaining could soon follow.

'Strong feelings'

This has been blamed on the 20-day movement restriction on livestock bought and sold at market together with new hygiene rules which affect smaller, older sites.

The association says farmers are forced to sell at cheaper prices directly to abattoirs which are mostly controlled by supermarkets.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) and the LAA want the 20-day restrictions reduced, but the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says the duration is based on veterinary advice to prevent the spread of the disease.

Placards and banners have been prepared for the march
The march is expected to attract a global delegation

Robert Sturdy, MEP for the Eastern region and the European Parliament's Conservative spokesman on rural affairs, will be among politicians on the march.

He said: "It isn't about hunting and field sports, but about all rural affairs and I have very strong feelings about the rural community as a whole."

Police are advising protesters and anyone planning to visit London on the day of the march to leave their cars at home.

'Excellent co-operation'

An appeal has also been issued for marchers not to bring pets, farm machinery or livestock.

Scotland Yard Deputy Assistant Commissioner Andy Trotter said police were expecting the march to pass off peacefully.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme the force had received "excellent co-operation" from event organisers.

He added: "There may well be groups that come along to protest [against the march] and we will allow those protests but we will just make sure they are peaceful.

"The marchers are extremely peaceful."

The event had been planned for last year, but was postponed by the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

During the march participants will be entertained by bands and five huge video screens en route and marshalled by at least 1,600 stewards.

Campaigners remained determined to attend the march, despite threats to attack their properties while they are in the capital.

The private addresses of some participants were posted on an anonymous website, which has now been terminated.

A senior Countryside Alliance member said: "It is highly likely that these are just empty threats, but anyone coming on the march and leaving their homes unattended should take every sensible precaution."

The BBC's Jon Kay
"The organisers are promising a massive turnout"

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