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London sees biggest civil rights protest

PUBLISHED: 07:36 23 September 2002 | UPDATED: 12:42 03 March 2010

MORE than 400,000 rural campaigners marched through the streets of London in the biggest civil rights protest seen in Britain.

Organisers of the Countryside Alliance's Liberty and Livelihood March said it had been a huge success and called on the Government to make a "considered response" to the concerns highlighted by the protest.

MORE than 400,000 rural campaigners marched through the streets of London in the biggest civil rights protest seen in Britain.

Organisers of the Countryside Alliance's Liberty and Livelihood March said it had been a huge success and called on the Government to make a "considered response" to the concerns highlighted by the protest.

Marchers from across the globe set off from Hyde Park Corner and Blackfriars Bridge for Parliament Square yesterday to send a defiant message to Prime Minister Tony Blair over the state of the countryside.

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith was near the head of the march which set off from Blackfriars and was one of a number of high-profile people adding their voice to the Countryside Alliance message.

"I think this is a statement by those in the countryside and many others in towns and cities about how this Government tells people how to live their lives, but is not addressing the major issues and problems they are facing," he said.

"The whole spectrum of countryside problems, transport, the closure of hospitals and rural schools and so on – and yet they want to ban hunting and they are prepared to give Parliamentary time to that."

The Countryside Alliance said it had organised the march in response to a number of issues which it claimed were assaulting rural areas – including homelessness and property prices, the closure of services like pubs, post offices, shops and petrol stations, falling farm incomes and unequal Government spending between town and country.

The marchers arrived in London on 31 specially-chartered trains and a further 2,500 coaches. About 20 roads in central London were closed to traffic as the march got under way with 1,600 police officers on duty and an extra 1,800 stewards from the Countryside Alliance on patrol.

Speaking at the end of the march, John Jackson, chairman of the Countryside Alliance, said: "It is absolutely huge. By a mile, it's the largest march for a demonstration of any kind that this country has seen.

"As a proportion of the population, it has become very, very interesting. Anybody who thinks that this is just about hunting must be living on a different planet."

He added: "If the Government make the mistake of doing something unjust, I have no doubt that the countryside will erupt in fury. There is a simmering anger out there.

"If the Government does proceed in a sensible way towards the countryside, they will also find that there is a well of co-operation."

Mr Jackson said a delegation from the Countryside Alliance would also be delivering a 10-point open letter to the Prime Minister at the end of the march.

The Countryside Alliance now plans to hold a conference within the next 40 days with a view to setting up a rural council on a par with the TUC and CBI, representing the "whole of the countryside".

Mr Jackson said: "The countryside needs a rural council, such a unified representation is long overdue."

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