An estimated 250,000 country residents marched peacefully through central London on Sunday to protest against issues ranging from a proposed ban on fox hunting to rules prohibiting the sale of beef on the bone.
Hunters in full riding gear and gentlemen clasping walking sticks joined butchers, farmers, villagers and landowners from the far corners of the nation to show the 10-month-old Labor Party government that the rural lobby is strong and vocal.Police estimated the crowd at 250,000 - one of the biggest protests in London since demonstrations in 1990 over an unpopular community charge dubbed the "poll tax." But, unlike some of those protests, Sunday's march was peaceful, though it snarled traffic for hours.
Carrying banners that declared "Hunting says no to the Urban Jackboot" and "No Country Sports means No Countryside," the demonstrators moved off from Trafalgar Square to the sound of hunting horns and slowly made their way towards Hyde Park, about 2 1/4 miles away.
The march was spurred by a debate scheduled in parliament next week on a so-called private member's bill brought by Labor legislator Michael Foster to ban hunting with hounds. But it gave country residents the chance to express dissatisfaction on other issues as well.
"This is about the preservation of a livelihood, not the protection of a pastime," said Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, which has the third biggest representation in the House of Commons (lower house).