Monday, October 18, 1999 Published at 01:32 GMT 02:32 UK
City protest over hunt ban plan
Tory leader William Hague sent the crowd a letter of support
Nearly 20,000 people have held a rally in Newcastle-upon-Tyne to protest against the government's plans to ban fox hunting with hounds.
The march, which was organised by the pressure group, the Countryside Alliance, is one of a series planned in England and Wales to show the level of opposition to the proposals.
One of the organisers of Sunday's march - Charles Renwick - said country people were fed up with the prejudice, ignorance and hypocrisy that threatened the fabric of rural life.
"The government refuses to listen to our plea for livelihoods and liberty. We are no further forward than we were before the Countryside March 18 months ago, so we are taking to the streets again."
Led by two pipers the column of marchers sporting "Back off Blair" stickers - many sounding hunt bugles and whistles - marched through the city centre carrying banners and placards.
Similar demonstrations have already taken place in Bournemouth in Dorset and Birmingham, with further protests planned for Norwich, Exeter and Cardiff.
Alan Wolinski, regional manager for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Yorkshire and the north-east, said: "The Countryside Alliance may be able to organise large demonstrations in support of hunting, but research shows that fewer than 100 people at the demo have jobs which are directly dependent on hunting.
"The vast majority of those who turn up will do so because they enjoy hunting wild animals with dogs, but they should not fool the public into believing they are demonstrating because their jobs are at stake."
'Reality of hunting'
The League Against Cruel Sports has also criticised the march. It published a report on "hunt havoc" - when hounds stray on to roads, railway lines and attack pets.
Its chairman John Cooper said: "This weekend the pro-hunt Countryside Alliance will try to convince people in the north of England that hunting should not be banned.
"This report shows that hunts constantly interfere in the lives of ordinary country people, when hounds attack family pets, or endanger life by straying onto roads and railway lines.
"This is the reality of hunting - it is not some picture postcard pastime."