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In a bizarre attempt to prevent the population of a small Spanish town dwindling, residents of Villafrechos yesterday bussed in more than 100 women from neighbouring towns for a large-scale blind date party.

The women were taken to lunch by around 60 single men, all hoping to find their perfect partner. Tomas Infestas, a 57-year-old retired carpenter, said he was hopeful he could find a bride. "I want to find a partner," he said. "I am lonely."

Whether he or anyone else will be able to persuade any of the women to stay in Villafrechos (population 540) is another matter. Highlights laid on for the would-be lovers consisted of a visit to a cheese factory and an opportunity to watch the town's menfolk display their skills on the football field.

Indeed, not all women had come to Villafrechos, which lies on the northern plains of Spain, in the hope of finding a husband.

"It's a lovely and exciting experience," said Irene Velasco, 45, a Madrid hotel worker. "I haven't come here to look for a mate, rather to meet new people and have a good time."

The brains behind the exercise was Teresa Canal, who runs a local inn. "There are too many bachelors here, we had to try and find them brides," she said.

The town's Mayor, Miguel Angel Gomez, supported the scheme, inviting women through a regionwide advertising campaign. He was taken aback by the number of women who responded. "The youngest is 24 and the oldest 68," he said.

And just in case any of the blind dates are a success, the Mayor said he would keep the register office open over the weekend.

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