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Virus throws shadow over UK poll

Blair
Some fear delaying the election date could harm Britain's image  

LONDON, England -- UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is considering whether to delay the country's general election because of foot-and-mouth disease.

Blair was widely predicted to choose May 3 -- a date already set aside for local elections --for the poll to capitalise on Labour leads in opinion polls.

But British newspapers and television has reported Blair is now considering a date in June when he hopes the foot-and-mouth epidemic will be under control.

There has been no official announcement from Downing Street about the date but a spokesman did say Blair was listening to people's concerns and "he will act in the best interest of the whole country."

Some politicians have argued the local elections in England should not go ahead as planned because of the livestock crisis afflicting the countryside.

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Changing the date for local elections will require legislation in parliament.

But he can wait until as late as May 2002 to call a general election.

The UK Government believes it is beginning to win its battle against foot-and-mouth disease despite the continued rise in the number of outbreaks, which now stand at 845.

In Ireland, a livestock cull has been extended in an attempt to confine foot-and-mouth disease to the area in the northeast of the country where one case has been confirmed.

The Department of Agriculture said it plans to slaughter all animals on the Cooley Peninsula, with 15,000 sheep and cattle are expected to be culled. Around 24,000 animals have already been slaughtered on the peninsula.

In Germany, follow-up tests on two piglets that were found dead and suspected of having the foot-and-mouth showed they did not have the illness, an official said on Sunday.

The piglets had been imported before February 1 from the Netherlands -- where 11 cases of the disease have been reported since Britain was swept by the epidemic.

One had suffered a high fever, the other contracted blisters on the snout.

Germany has yet to register a case of the highly infectious disease since it broke out in Britain and later affected France, Ireland and the Netherlands.



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RELATED SITES:
Foot-and-Mouth disease
UK Ministry of Agriculture
England Tourist-Boards Directory

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