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Egypt pig farmers clash with police over slaughter

04 May 2009 12:47 AM

CAIRO, May 3 AFP - Egyptian riot police clashed on Sunday with stone-throwing pig farmers who were trying to prevent their animals being taken away for slaughter as part of a mass nationwide cull.

Between 300 and 400 residents of the hilly Moqattam slum district of Cairo, where mostly Coptic Christian scrap merchants raise pigs, hurled stones and bottles at police.

Anti-riot police replied by firing rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators, most of them youths.

An AFP correspondent said the protesters ransacked a police post and an officer fired warning shots in the air.

Seven policemen were slightly injured, a security official said, while at least eight demonstrators were hurt, according to the correspondent and a medic.

An ambulance was on stand-by in Moqattam neighbourhood of Manshiyet Nasr, home to about 35,000 scrap and recycling merchants known as the "zabaleen" who raise some 60,000 pigs.

"They want to steal our livelihood," protested one of the farmers, Adel Izhak, before police started to take control of the district.

Similar troubles broke out in Khanka, north of the capital, security officials said. Police were already repelled from Khanka by stone-throwers on Wednesday after the controversial cull was announced.

Egypt began the cull of the nation's 250,000 pigs on Saturday, despite the World Health Organisation saying there was no evidence the animals were transmitting swine flu to humans.

The authorities are calling the slaughter a general health measure. No cases of swine flu, or influenza A(H1N1), have been reported in the Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world.

Egypt's pigs mostly belong to and are eaten by members of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority and are reared by rubbish collectors in Cairo's shantytowns. Islam bans the consumption of pork for the majority Muslims.

Egyptian animal rights activist Amina Abaza deplored the slaughter of pigs and said the decision to cull them was probably taken only because they belong to the Copts.

"They are doing all this although there is not one single case of swine flu in Egypt," Abaza told AFP, noting that Egypt has suffered from bird flu but no decision was taken to stem out poultry in the country.

"I wonder if this measure has not been taken because pigs belongs to Copts," she said.

Abaza, who is the founder of the first animal rights association in Egypt known as SPARE, said she believed that slaughtering the pigs was more "linked to religion than fear of the disease" itself.

The rubbish collectors, who used the pigs to dispose of organic waste and sell off some animals from their herds once a year, say the cull will affect their business and wipe out a crucial source of income.

Although no cases of swine flu have been reported in Egypt, the country has been battling an outbreak of bird flu for three years.

Twenty-six people have died in Egypt from the H5N1 strain of bird flu since it was first identified in early 2006 and the country has seen an increase in cases over the past two months.

The authorities have said it will take six months to carry out the pig slaughter and announced plans to import three machines to raise the culling capacity to 3,000 animals a day.

According to the government newspaper Al-Ahram, the authorities plan to pay out $US14 ($A19) dollars for each male animal slaughtered and $US35 ($A48) for each female pig.