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Last Updated: Saturday, 18 September, 2004, 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK
Minister defends march decision
Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael
Mr Michael was confronted by the Commons protesters
Minister Alun Michael has defended his decision to drop out of a rural march - a move pro-hunters said showed the countryside was a Labour "no-go" area.

The rural affairs minister said he was acting on police intelligence by not taking part in Saturday's "right to roam" march in Lancashire.

The Countryside Alliance said ministers now faced "forceful but peaceful" protests in towns and cities.

Mr Michael told the BBC he wanted the march to go ahead without disruption.

"I am acting on the basis of police intelligence and I don't want to go further than that," he said.


"The police were quite clear they would defend my right to be there, [but] it would involve an enormous police presence and possibly it might be innocent bystanders rather than me, who might be the subject of violence."

Mr Michael, responsible for steering a hunting ban through Parliament, was in the House of Commons chamber when five hunt supporters stormed in during Wednesday's debate.

He had been due to take part in celebrations at the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire on Saturday and at Derbyshire Bridge in the Peak District on Sunday.

They are among pieces of land which have been opened to ramblers under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.

The minister told the BBC there was a clear intention by some hunting supporters to intimidate and "use violence".

What they have done is despicable and we will not allow it to rest
Tim Bonner, Countryside Alliance

And he wanted to focus attention on new ramblers' freedoms in the north west and south east which came after 80 years of campaigning, he said.

Wales Rally disruption

The Countryside Alliance said protests would be peaceful, but forceful, as people felt they had been failed by the parliamentary system.

Spokesman Tim Bonner said: "What they have done is despicable and we will not allow it to rest - the countryside will become a no-go area for Labour ministers."

Hunt supporter Steve Newlove, from North Yorkshire, is one of those pledging to follow protests across England.

He added: "I think public support, in the rural communities anyway, is just going to increase as we go along with this fight."

On Saturday, pro-hunt protesters caused delay to the 12 leading cars in the Wales Rally GB by blocking the road in the village of Llanfihangel Nant Bran, Powys.

The protesters claimed they were not members of the Countryside Alliance, but rather a group of local pro-hunt activists.

As a consequence of the protest, the leading car, number 20, had to start stage 11 of the race 25 minutes later than scheduled.

Supporters are expected to be out in force at a series of hunts taking place across the country this weekend.

The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"Supporters insist their campaign against a hunt ban will continue"

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