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London Braces for Sunday's Protest March - 2002-09-20


London is preparing for what could be its biggest-ever protest march. On Sunday, up to 300,000 people are planning to demonstrate in the capital against alleged government neglect of rural communities.

Organizers says Sunday's march could turn out to be the city's biggest civil rights demonstration since the Peasant Revolt of 1381, when the serfs rose up to demand an end to servitude, low wages and unfair taxes.

This time, many of the protestors will be motivated by government moves to outlaw fox hunting, a centuries-old tradition in Britain. Other demonstrators will draw attention to the hard luck farmers have had in recent years. The farm economy is still suffering from last year's outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease. That followed several years of severely reduced British beef exports due to fears of mad-cow disease.

Six months of planning has gone into Sunday's march, which is sponsored by the Countryside Alliance, a rural advocacy group.

The march director, James Stanford, says 2,500 buses have been chartered to bring the demonstrators into London. Parked end-to-end, the convoy would stretch for nearly 100 kilometers.

Mr. Stanford says the marchers want to preserve Britain's fabled countryside lifestyle.

But is it is the fox hunting issue that will get the most attention, and stir up the most emotions.

Animal welfare groups say fox hunting is a cruel and outdated pastime of the red-coated, horseback-riding aristocracy, while advocates say it clears the countryside of a pest, and attracts much-needed tourism.

Mr. Stanford says groups from outside Britain will also march in solidarity against proposed legislation to outlaw fox-hunting throughout Britain. "We have representatives of something like 25 overseas countries," he said. "We have terrific support from the hunters in America, many of whom come over here and enjoy our sports and all kinds of country sports in this country. They cannot understand why we are crazy enough to be having this sort of legislation at this time, when there are bigger things to think about."

London police say they will have 1,600 extra officers on duty Sunday. Police commanders say they expect the march will be conducted peacefully, and they have no information of any threats against the demonstrators.

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