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Disease found in Scotland and N. Ireland

LONDON (AP) — Britain and Ireland struggled Thursday to contain an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, and the first cases in Scotland were confirmed at farms near Lockerbie.

With the spread of the disease to Northern Ireland confirmed, fears mounted in the Irish Republic. Irish trainers were set to pull their horses out of a prestigious horse jump race, the Cheltenham Festival in England. The meet itself, set for March 13-15, could be called off.

Britain's biggest dog show, Crufts, has been postponed because of the foot-and-mouth outbreak, organizers announced Thursday. The Forestry Commission said it was closing all forests.

Meanwhile, continental Europe took more steps to prevent the spread of the virulent livestock ailment, which can be transmitted by humans — even on their clothes — or through the air. No case has been confirmed on the continent.

On Thursday Belgium began the destruction of sheep and goats imported from Britain since Feb. 1, as well as domestic livestock that may have come into contact with them — about 2,000 animals in all, media reported.

Portugal ordered Thursday that all people arriving from the United Kingdom must disinfect their shoes on arrival. Spain banned livestock fairs and restricted transport of animals, while the Netherlands ordered the closure of zoos and nature preserves.

In Germany, authorities said initial tests at two suspect farms in North Rhine-Westphalia had found no evidence of the disease. A farm in the western state of Hesse was sealed off and disinfected.

Foot-and-mouth affects cloven-hoofed animals, causing weight loss and reduced dairy production.

Since the outbreak of the disease was confirmed last week at a slaughterhouse near London, veterinarians have identified more than two dozen cases across England. A total of 102 British farms have been sealed off or forced to take precautions, and the transport and export of livestock has been banned. A new case was identified in Cumbria, an English county bordering Scotland.

Scotland confirmed its first cases Thursday — on a farm in Lockerbie and another in nearby Canonbie. Cattle from the farms will be slaughtered, the Scottish Executive said. The cases were linked to shipments from Britain before it halted livestock movement, chief veterinary officer Jim Scudamore said.

The spread of the virus to Northern Ireland was expected to dominate a Thursday meeting between prime ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Bertie Ahern of the Irish Republic.

Ahern said the outbreak was a "huge concern" for his country's $6 billion livestock industry. So far no cases have been found in the country.

Officials in Northern Ireland announced Wednesday the disease had been found among imported English sheep on a farm that straddles the border with the Irish Republic. The territory confirmed the cases Thursday. Sheep at a second farm were showing symptoms.

Northern Ireland banned the movement of farm animals other than for slaughter and canceled livestock auctions.

The Irish Republic set up troughs of disinfectant at border crossings, requiring travelers from Britain to wade through them before entering the country.