Far-right groups set to hijack rural rally

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The Independent Online
NEO-FASCIST activists are planning to infiltrate tomorrow's Countryside March as part of a strategy of exploiting rural issues for extreme right- wing political aims.

Far-right publications, including those of the British National Party, have been encouraging members to turn up in force and distribute propaganda among the 200,000 protesters who are expected to attend.

The BNP has produced 20,000 newsletters, provisionally titled "British Countryman", to be handed out on the march and at future "defend the countryside" rallies. The anti-fascist magazine Searchlight has also received information that right-wing extremists are plotting violent confrontations with the aim of blaming any troubles on hunt saboteurs.

The BNP magazine British Nationalist reveals that activists attended last year's countryside rally at Hyde Park, the predecessor to tomorrow's march and "handed out 5,000 leaflets in just one-and-a-quarter hours ... The response from the protesters was overwhelmingly positive and the leaflet teams were impressed by the quality of people present." The far-right presence this Sunday, BNP sources claim, will be far bigger.

A leading member of the British National Party hierarchy writes in the latest issue of the BNP-supporting magazine Spearhead: "An example of official interference in the lives of country folk is the campaign by so many Labour MPs to forbid farmers from taking effective steps to control foxes ...

"The whole degenerate tone of the nation's cultural and political life is urbanised ... hence the impassioned plea from the Hyde Park countryside marches and rally `listen to us'.

These latest damaging revelations come as the march plunges into controversy over accusations it has been hijacked by forces with doctrinaire aims.

An event said to be a celebration of the British countryside, organised by the umbrella group Countryside Alliance, is increasingly being seen as a thinly disguised campaign for the cause of blood sports and the British Field Sports Society.

Janet George, who is the spokesperson for both the BFSS and the Countryside Alliance. admitted yesterday: "The Countryside Alliance is first and foremost a defence of field sports organisation."

The Government is said to be increasingly concerned at the turn of events, and senior figures were scathing about what they claim is an alliance between the BFSS and William Hague's Conservatives.

One senior source said: "The BFSS is the Tory party at play."

It was also revealed yesterday that the Labour MP Ian Causey had received a letter from Nigel Burke, of "The Countryside March, organised by The Countryside Alliance" which openly declared the protest's hunting agenda.

Dated 23 February l998, it said: "Everyone at the March is expected to either support hunting, or at the very least support other people's right to choose whether or not to hunt ... you would, in fact, be marching for hunting if you joined the march."

Last night Michael Meacher, the environment minister, who had said he would be taking part in the march, demanded clarification from the Countryside Alliance of the letter to Mr Causey. Earlier in the day the agriculture minister, Elliot Morley, had stated that he would not be attending, as had Jack Cunningham, the Secretary of State for Agriculture.

Letters, page 18