NICOSIA (AFP) – Cypriot conservationists were outraged yesterday over a government decision to allow thousands of hunters to shoot migrating turtle doves in a move they say contravenes EU directives. Birdwatchers say that permitting hunters to shoot turtle doves poses an «unacceptable threat» to a species declining across Europe. Moreover, organizations like Birdlife Cyprus say the permits to allow shooting tomorrow and the following Wednesday are nothing more than an election ploy to appease the influential hunting lobby. «They are going ahead with shooting these birds because of the presidential elections, there is no other reason to shoot these birds while on their way to breeding grounds from Africa,» Birdlife Cyprus head Martin Hellicar told AFP. Cyprus goes to the polls in February 2008 to elect a new president. The last time turtle dove shooting was allowed in spring was back in 1993. The government has cited a derogation under EU law that can permit shooting during this period – for purposes of population control. But this is contested by bird conservationists. «These doves will be hit as they pass through Cyprus… The EU birds directive bans shooting during migration toward nesting areas to ensure birds can successfully replenish their numbers,» said Hellicar. Birdlife International, a global alliance of conservation organizations, has called on the European Commission to step in and prevent the shootings from going ahead. Malta, another European Union country which permits spring hunting, is currently the object of legal action by the EC. «This will also affect Cyprus tourism, as Germans, Britons and Scandinavians don’t like people shooting at little birds,» warned Hellicar.