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Virus halts Northern Ireland parades

Northern Ireland has ordered a mass cull
Northern Ireland has ordered a mass cull  

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- A controversial Protestant parade has been called off due to foot-and-mouth disease in Northern Ireland.

Three Catholic rallies, held to mark the 1916 Easter Rising against British rule in Ireland, in communities near the new outbreak have also been called off.

The loyalist Apprentice Boys of Londonderry announced on Saturday they were cancelling all Easter Monday parades in the province.

They were due to hold a series of marches, including one along the predominantly Catholic Lower Ormeau Road in South Belfast which it was feared could lead to sectarian violence.

"A lot of farmers and their livelihoods are at stake here," said spokesman Alastair Simpson.

"Anybody with any feeling would have done the same."

John Gormley, of the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community, the Catholic group opposing the march, said residents would be relieved to hear of the cancellation.

"Obviously we're disappointed that it has to be on the back of something like foot-and-mouth rather than a more genuine recognition of the true situation on the Lower Ormeau road," he said.

The parades mark the start of the so-called "marching season" when loyalist organisations commemorate the victory of the protestant King William of Orange over the Catholic King James II of England in 1690.

With the confirmation on Friday of a second case of foot and mouth in province, however, organisers took the decision to cancel all parades.

Simpson, the Governor of the Order, added: "The Apprentice Boys have made a decision because of foot-and-mouth disease here, especially in the north-west (of Northern Ireland).

The new foot-and-mouth outbreak occurred on a farm in Ardboe, County Tyrone, near the border with the Republic of Ireland.

"It goes without saying that this is a huge setback for the whole of the Northern Ireland agriculture industry and comes just at a time when our hopes were high that we might have escaped this dreadful scourge," said province's Agriculture Minister Brid Rodgers.

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The only previous outbreak in Northern Ireland was almost six weeks ago at a farm in Meigh, South Armagh, again near the border with the Irish Republic.

Officials have announced a mass cull of 4,000 pigs, sheep and cows in the vicinity of the new outbreak.

All pigs within three kilometers (1.9miles) of the farm will be slaughtered, as will all sheep and cows within a one kilometer (0.6 mile) radius.

Animals are also being slaughtered on a farm near Cushendell in County Antrim on the north-east coast of the province, where there has been a "hot" suspected outbreak.

A European Union ban on livestock product exports from Northern Ireland has been renewed. The exports had only resumed a week ago.

Meanwhile, six farmers have been arrested in the Netherlands during a protest against the slaughter of healthy livestock as a result of foot-and-mouth disease.

The farmers were part of a group of up to 50 farmers who erected a barricade in a village by setting fire to a truck on Friday.

"We didn't need to use violence, almost everyone went away when we told them," police spokesman Harry Munniksma said. "The situation is calm now."

The incident in Kootwijkerbroek was low-key compared to Monday's clashes in the same village when police used water cannons to break up protests.

Friday's protest did not disrupt the ongoing slaughter of 70,000 animals within a two-kilometre radius of a foot-and-mouth infected farm.

The number of confirmed cases of foot-and-mouth in the Netherlands is 25, compared to more than 1,200 in Britain.

Britain was earlier criticised for not doing enough to prevent the foot-and-mouth virus from spreading to continental Europe.

French Farm Minister Jean Glavany said: "When countries like the United Kingdom have destroyed their public services after the years of unbridled liberalism under Margaret Thatcher, their weakness becomes a European weakness.

"Because of an overstretched veterinary service, the British exported a crisis which should have been contained within their borders."

France, which can begin exporting meat again following the lifting of a ban on Thursday, has managed to contain its two confirmed cases of foot-and-mouth disease.

As it appealed to the public to visit rural tourist attraction over the Easter weekend, the UK government was told that a drastic slaughter programme to prevent the spread of the disease is the only way to bring the outbreak under control.

A team of experts from London's Imperial College School of Medicine concluded that the faster animals are slaughtered following the report of a suspected infection, the more the epidemic is reduced.

The scientists' model showed that even when infected animals were slaughtered within 24 hours of symptoms appearing, some 30 percent of all UK farms would eventually be hit by the epidemic.

In the heavily affected areas, such as Cumbria, the figure rose to 79 percent.

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
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UK virus spread continues
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Dutch anger at livestock cull
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Virus hits UK Easter tourism
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RELATED SITES:
Northern Ireland Parades Commission
The Northern Ireland Assembly
Foot-and-mouth disease
Association of British Travel Agents
British Government
European Union
French Government

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