Tens of thousands of people marched in London Sunday to protest against what they say is government neglect of rural affairs. Many were motivated by government moves to ban fox-hunting.
A sea of protesters blew whistles and carried anti-government banners through the streets of London Sunday to draw attention to the grievances of a wide section of country dwellers.
The driving force behind what was called the Liberty and Livelihood march is a move by the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair to outlaw fox-hunting.
Many protesters also complained about the depressed economy in rural Britain, which has been ravaged in recent years by foot-and-mouth and mad cow disease and a resultant slump in tourism.
British government statistics show that farm income dropped by 10 percent last year, and homelessness in rural areas has risen by 13 percent since 1997.
Richard Burge of the Countryside Alliance said the main purposes of the demonstration were "to defend the right of rural people to live their lives responsibly in the way they choose. To safeguard rural people from prejudiced attacks on hunting with dogs, and all other country sports. To respect the customs and values of rural communities. To ensure that any laws directed at rural people have their consent. And finally, to address the real problems of the countryside, which are destroying its communities, its culture and its children's future."
Alan Crane and his son Tom came to London from their rural home in County Kent, east of the capital, to lend their support to the march. Mr. Crane said the government should not ban fox-hunting.
"Our livelihoods, our way of living, is all under threat," stressed Mr. Crane. "Threatened from lack of investment, threatened from lack of jobs in the countryside, lack of housing in the countryside, and in rules like banning a pastime, which a minority enjoy, which does a useful job in pest control, will further damage the countryside. It's just vindictiveness on the part of a section of the majority. And I thought governments had to protect minorities."
Not all of the marchers were from farming communities. Alexander Hamilton lives in south London, and he says fellow city dwellers who oppose fox-hunting are misinformed.
"The whole business of the anti-fox hunting, and hunting with dogs, is simply a big feel-good activity by a lot of people who know absolutely nothing of what they are talking about," he said.
Those who want to outlaw fox hunting were not visible Sunday, but they argue that the sport is a cruel and outdated pastime of the rural aristocracy. The government has pending legislation to ban the practice, and polls show that most Britons want it outlawed.