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Tuesday, September 28, 1999 Published at 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK

UK Politics

Hunt demo condemns Blair

Thousands joined the rally to march on Labour's conference

Fox hunting supporters have taken an angry protest against the proposed ban on the sport to the Labour Party conference.

Police said more than the expected 16,000 demonstrators turned up for the rally ahead of Tony Blair's conference speech.

A small number of anti-hunt protesters and hundreds of police lined the route as they made their way passed the conference centre in Bournemouth, chanting "Listen to us" and "Where's Blair".

'Slobodan Blair' targeted

Fox hunting
The rally began with a series of fiery speeches attacking the government in a nearby park. The first speaker was Robin Page, a Telegraph columnist who led the campaign to stop the BBC scrapping the One Man and His Dog programme.

The BBC's John Pienaar: "It looks like the legal ban on hunting is coming closer"
He told the rally: "We saved One Man and His Dog. We're going to save fox hunting and we're going to save the countryside."

Addressing a crowd clad in green jackets and bearing placards with the words "Slobodan Blair", he said: "I'm worried about cultural cleansing in the countryside."

[ image: The protesters want the government to back down on banning fox hunting]
The protesters want the government to back down on banning fox hunting
To huge applause and cheering, he added: "If I was a one-legged, single, black, lesbian, Muslim, asylum-seeker, then you'd be on my side."

George Bowyer, who wrote the Guardian of the Land single released around the time of the first Countryside Alliance march in London, was next to speak.

"We did it in Hyde Park and we've done it again today," he said. Looking skywards, he continued: "The sun always shines on the righteous."

He promised the prime minister fox hunters would always remember what they regarded as a betrayal by the government.

"We will not forget and we will never forgive," he said.

Blair promised hunt ban

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore examines both sides of the hunting debate
The Countryside Alliance, which organised the march, said the 16,000 target for attendance represented the number of jobs the alliance says will be lost if hunting is abolished.

The protesters are angry because Mr Blair has promised a vote on ending hunting with hounds, a Labour manifesto commitment, within the next two parliamentary sessions.

Jack Cunningham: "The Government is simply reflecting the overwhelming majority"
He said on the BBC's Question Time in July that he hoped to find time in the coming parliamentary session for the vote.

The demonstration follows Monday's rally by farmers, angry at the crisis suffered by the agriculture industry and rural communities.

[ image: Demonstrators say they will be prepared to break the law]
Demonstrators say they will be prepared to break the law
The Countryside Alliance has attacked the government for neglecting rural concerns. The alliance organised last year's countryside march, when more than 230,000 people gathered in London, and Tuesday's march is part of a programme of demonstrations leading up to the Queen's Speech on 17 November.

Last week, the prime minister said the hunting lobby had sought to muddy the waters by painting Labour as an "anti-countryside" party.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he wrote: "The truth is the Countryside Alliance is an organisation created primarily to defend hunting with hounds.

"That's fine. But their priorities should not be confused with the real priorities of those who live in rural areas."

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