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Last Updated: Friday, 26 December, 2003, 15:24 GMT
Crowds turn out for hunts
hunt members in north Wales
The hunt is a major social event for many
Hunt supporters and opponents turned out in force across Wales on Friday for what many thought could be the last official Boxing Day hunt.

The Countryside Alliance predicted that more than 250,000 supporters would turn out across the UK for the biggest day in the hunting calendar.

Animal rights activists, including the League Against Cruel Sports, said thousands of protesters would congregate at the hunts' meeting places to voice their opposition.

The Carmarthenshire Hunt, which has been active for more than 70 years, was expecting to attract supporters and protesters when it rode out.

Protests were also expected at other meets, including the Banwen Miners' Hunt in Neath and th Tredegar Farmers' Hunt in Bassaleg, near Newport.

The UK Government has been trying to get a ban or tighter regulations through parliament.

Its last attempt was kicked out by the House of Lords in the last parliamentary session.

Hunt assembling
However, ministers have said the issue will be "resolved" soon and the anti-hunt lobby is still convinced it will be banned within two years.

Some protesters believe the government is preparing to force legislation banning foxhunting on to the statute book, even though the issue was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech.

Ministers have said the issue will soon be "resolved." The hunting Bill was lost in the Lords in the last parliamentary session, leaving the way open for MPs to invoke the Parliament Acts to get it through. Prime Minister Tony Blair reportedly told ministers that the House of Lords must be confronted if it continued to frustrate the will of the elected Commons.

A poll commissioned by the International Fund for Animal Welfare in November claimed 76% of people in the UK want make hunting with dogs illegal.

Mike Hobday, spokesman for the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "We will be carrying out symbolic protests to mark the abhorrence that we feel for hunts taking place later in the day.

'No worries'

"The government has promised to resolve the hunting issue. If this happens then we expect legislation to be reintroduced in November next year, with another three months before it comes into effect. "This means today's hunt will be the penultimate one."

Countryside Alliance spokesman Tim Bonner said supporters were not worried about the prospect of government legislation.

He said: "Last year we had a quarter of a million supporters. This year we expect the same, if not more.

"In the last seven years, hunting has become much more open. There has been a change of attitude from the hunting community. "People would rather get involved than worry about their image. They would rather be out there than worry about how people perceive them.

"We have been hearing over the last seven or eight years about plans for legislation and nothing has happened."

However other anti-hunt groups say they are fed up with the government dragging its heels on the issue.

Last month there were concerns in Wales that a ban could lead to a serious breakdown in relations between police and rural communities.

There were concerns that if pro-hunters carried out threats of defying any ban put in place, it could lead to conflict with police similar to the clashes seen during the 1980s miners' strike.

In Wales more than 3,000 people have so far signed a declaration pledging they will continue hunting illegally if there is a ban.

The Flint and Denbigh Hunt followers say they are prepared for the consequences.

One defiant member said she had already made arrangements with her family in case she got sent to prison.

"The day that they ban hunting, we will all be out hunting so someone's there to look after the children so they can take me off, cuffs and all and I'm prepared to go to jail.

Farmer Bob Parry said he thought the police would have serious problems enforcing the law.

"With the Flint and Denbigh, there can be up to 200 people, including followers, and if we all turn up together, what is going to happen? They can't lock us all up."

Another member added: "I think a lot of awful things could happen. I've heard talk of things that I certainly wouldn't condone - talk of burning the forests, blocking the motorways. It won't do any good, it'll be totally counter-productive.

"I fear for more than civil unrest - anarchy is what I fear."

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