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Blair drive to calm tourist fears

Spray
Slaughtered sheep are sprayed with disinfectant in Cumbria  

LONDON, England -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has stepped up his drive to boost tourism hit by the foot-and-mouth crisis.

He travelled to the northern county of Yorkshire and is scheduled to give interviews to French, Japanese and U.S. media to hammer home his Britain is "open for business" message.

His visit came as a man was remanded in custody charged with murdering a slaughterman who was hit by a bolt gun during a cull of livestock infected by foot-and-mouth disease in the UK.

Steven Smart, 28, died in hospital a day after he was injured at a former airfield, which is being used for the killing and burial of animals.

Parts of the countryside are closed to visitors to try to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth, which is harmless to humans but undermines the economic value of livestock such as sheep, pigs and cows.

The number of infected sites in the UK stood at 1,065 on Friday with more than a million animals culled or earmarked for slaughter since the outbreak began in February.

Cumbria -- which takes in the popular Lake District national park -- is one of the areas most seriously affected by the outbreak with tourism revenues down by as much as 80 percent.

Trade and Industry Secretary Steve Byers said that tourism and retail businesses hit by the effects of the disease would be able to apply for loans of up to 250,000 ($358,000) to help with cash flow problems.

"There are no quick fixes, but we must and we will do all we can to alleviate some of the problems that businesses across the country are facing now," Byers said.

The government also announced a 6 million tourism promotional campaign, although Shadow Culture Secretary Peter Ainsworth branded it "paltry and insulting."

Actor Sean Connery has joined efforts to boost tourism from the lucrative U.S. market.

The former James Bond star used a ceremony in Washington to urge Americans not to be put off by the television images of vast pyres of animal carcasses.

Across Europe, the Netherlands now has 15 confirmed cases of foot-and-mouth disease, France two and the Republic of Ireland one.

Norway said on Friday it was lifting a ban on meat and dairy products from the European Union except from the four nations hit by the disease.

Pyres
Images of burning pyres have put off many tourists  

"There's reason to consider all countries that have not had an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease as low-risk countries," Norwegian Agriculture Minister Bjarne Haakon Hanssen said. "I'm pleased that we can now resume normal trade relations with our Nordic neighbours and most countries in the EU-EFTA areas."

Sweden also lifted a ban on imports of meat and dairy products for people's private use, adding that it would soon lift restrictions on commercial imports of meat and dairy products from France and Ireland. Restrictions will remain on imports from Britain and the Netherlands.

Japan's farm ministry is to send a mission to five more European nations to confirm food safety.

Animal health experts would travel to Germany, Austria, Spain, Finland and Sweden, an official said. It follows a similar mission last month to Britain, France, Italy, Denmark and Belgium.

Japan imposed a temporary ban on imports of all meat products from the European Union on March 24.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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RELATED SITES:
Foot-and-mouth disease
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