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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 September, 2004, 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK
Rural minister arrives at meeting
Hunt supporters gathered in Exeter
The minister agreed to meet a Countryside Alliance delegation
The minister for rural affairs has arrived for a meeting in Devon with just two demonstrators to greet him.

Countryside Alliance supporters were expected to demonstrate outside the hotel in Exeter where Alun Michael was due to speak.

Pro-hunt protesters began to gather outside the conference hotel 20 minutes after the arrival of Mr Michael.

Alison Hawes from the alliance said the minister had "jiggled the timings about a bit".

Visit cancelled

Asked whether she thought Mr Michael was trying to avoid them, Ms Hawes said: "I think he has been trying to avoid us for some time."

Ms Hawes is among a five-strong delegation set to meet Mr Michael later on Wednesday.

She said Countryside Alliance supporters would remain outside the hotel until Mr Michael left after speaking to delegates at the Association of National Parks Authorities conference .

Mr Michael is a guest speaker at the conference, whose theme this year is 'Rising To The Challenge'.

The meeting comes two days after he was advised by police to abandon a trip to Dorset's Jurassic Coast, to avoid pro-hunt demonstrators.

Alun Michael
Mr Michael does not want his meetings hijacked by protesters
Mr Michael was due to join walkers in the Peak District on Sunday to mark the opening of 100,000 hectares of land under legislation which gives people the right to roam over new areas of countryside.

But he cancelled the visit, fearing it would be hijacked by pro-hunt protesters.

Then on Monday Mr Michael was advised not to attend the launch of the Friends of the Jurassic Coast organisation in Weymouth.

He said police had advised him to withdraw over safety concerns and he was not prepared to allow pro-hunt supporters to spoil the Jurassic launch.

The demonstrations have been sparked by the the vote in the House of Commons last week to ban hunting with dogs.

The bill's third reading was passed by 339 votes to 155 after Mr Michael insisted the will of the elected chamber would prevail.

The government has said the bill will be pushed through if it is opposed by peers in the House of Lords.

The ban is expected to come into force in July 2006.

'No-go' jibe as Michael pulls out
17 Sep 04  |  Politics
Hunt ban: how your MP voted
16 Sep 04  |  Politics
MPs vote to ban hunting with dogs
16 Sep 04  |  Politics


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