Gov’t reacts as outcry at animal abuse intensifies

As the international outcry at the mistreatment of animals in Greece intensifies – with a major animal protection group issuing an action alert after a dog was badly burnt in Thessaloniki – reports yesterday said the government was drafting legislation for tough penalties against animal abusers. Reforms which would impose strict fines and other penalties on those inflicting violence against animals have already been tabled in Parliament and are being discussed, Deputy Agriculture Minister Fotis Hadzimichalis was quoted as saying in yesterday’s Ta Nea. «These incidents (of animal abuse) are an affront to our country and culture and must be condemned, as their unscrupulous perpetrators must be punished,» Hadzimichalis told the daily. The current absence of a legislative framework to protect animals against such abuse is the focus of much of the recent wave of criticism of Greece by international animal rights groups and ordinary citizens across the world. Complaints in recent weeks have concentrated on the discovery of a badly burnt husky dog following the Cup Final match between soccer teams PAOK and Aris on May 17. In particular, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is offering $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for harming the animal. Original reports said Aris fans torched the dog because its black and white fur resembled the colors of rival PAOK. But municipal authorities in Langadas, where the dog was found, insist the animal acquired its injuries by falling into hot tar – an assertion contested by animal rights groups. Most criticism, however, continues to center on the discovery of dozens of poisoned animals in Attica following the launch of a government campaign to clear the capital of stray dogs and cats ahead of next year’s Olympic Games. Scores of e-mails and letters from concerned citizens across the world continue to pour into government offices and national newspapers, insisting that stricter measures be implemented to protect strays. Shocked by the extensive coverage in the international press of dogs and cats found to have been poisoned and shot in Athens, protesters from far and wide are threatening to boycott Greek products and services – including tourism – and especially next year’s Olympic Games (ironically the very reason the capital is being «cleansed»). And many critics are not scared of targeting the individuals in a position to make a difference. «This compassionless treatment of animals does not represent the Olympian celebration of life. Unless these inhumane killings stop, I will advocate a boycott of the Olympic Games,» a commentator from Tokyo warned in a letter to Prime Minister Costas Simitis, Agriculture Minister Giorgos Drys and Athens 2004 Organizing Committee Director Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki. An e-mail from Brazil addressed on Tuesday to government offices, Athens 2004 officials, press groups and tourism organizations is scathing in its criticism of the priorities of an Olympics-obsessed country: «The way a society treats its most innocent inhabitants reflects that society’s sense of humanity. Delegating stray animals to misery and death undermines all public relations campaigns.»

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