May 3, 2009
CAIRO (AFP) — Egyptian riot police clashed on Sunday with stone-throwing pig farmers trying to prevent their animals from being taken away for slaughter as part of a 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 protesters ransacked a police post and an officer fired warning shots in the air.
A security official and pig farmers said in the evening that government workers will return on Monday to begin confiscating the pigs, the government having promised the farmers compensation.
Seven policemen were slightly injured in the Moqattam clashes, a security official said, while at least eight demonstrators were hurt, according to the correspondent and a medic.
One injured protester lay sedated in a neighbourhood hospital bed, with birdshot wounds to his thighs and stomach.
At least five protesters were dragged away by police, two of them bloodied. A community leader later told pig farmers and rubbish collectors gathered at a church in the slum that the arrested men had been released.
"They want to steal our livelihood," protested one of the farmers, Adel Izhak, in the Moqattam area of Manshiyet Nasr, home to about 35,000 scrap and recycling merchants known as the "zabaleen."
Local pig farmers and rubbish collectors, who own an estimated 60,000 pigs, later gathered at the neighbourhood's church, where a priest tried to persuade them to surrender the livestock.
"What have you accomplished? Violence begets violence. The government has agreed to compensate all of you," Father Samaan, flanked by government representatives, said in a speech often interrupted by angry farmers.
Similar troubles broke out on Sunday in Khanka, north of the capital, security officials said.
In the Cairo neighbourhood of Basateen hundreds of farmers clashed with police, injuring a senior officer and four other policemen, according to state news agency MENA.
Egypt began the cull of the nation's 250,000 pigs in earnest 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 Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world.
Egypt's pigs mostly belong to and are eaten by members of Egypt's Coptic minority and are reared by rubbish collectors in Cairo's shantytowns. Islam bans the consumption of pork for the country's 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.
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.
Health Minister Hatem el-Gabali, meanwhile, ordered that a psychiatric hospital close to Cairo airport be converted into a quarantine centre to check travellers, MENA reported.
The authorities have said it will take six months to complete the cull of Egyptian pigs and announced plans to import three machines to raise the culling capacity to 3,000 beasts a day.
According to the government newspaper Al-Ahram, the authorities plan to pay out 100 pounds (14 dollars) for each boar slaughtered and 250 pounds (35 dollars) for each pregnant sow.
Egypt 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.