BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Politicians and dog-lovers rallied outside the home of Bucharest's mayor Saturday to protest his order to start killing hundreds of stray dogs.
Dozens of demonstrators stood outside Mayor Traian Basescu's upscale villa shouting "assassins." Flooded by appeals, President Ion Iliescu on Saturday telephoned Basescu to urge City Hall "to find a civilized and negotiated solution" to the dog problem, a statement from his office said.
Basescu on Thursday declared an adoption program backed by French actress and animal lover Brigitte Bardot to save some of Bucharest's 200,000 stray dogs a failure and gave the order to start killing the dogs in the city's pounds.
Anca Tomescu, a spokeswoman for the Austrian animal rights' group Vier Pfoten — or Four Paws — said on Saturday that 280 dogs had already been killed. Basescu wouldn't confirm the number, but said there were hardly any dogs left in the pounds. Earlier in the week, there were about 400.
City authorities say packs of stray dogs are a health hazard and a financial burden, blaming them for 20,000 bites in the past year.
They blame the glut of strays on the late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who demolished tens of thousands of homes, forcing residents to move into cramped apartment blocks and often abandoning their pets. Ceausescu was toppled in a 1989 anti-communist revolt.
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase criticized Bucharest's handling of its stray-dog problem, saying it was harming the country's image abroad. Some protesters carried posters reading: "They looked at you with tender eyes, and you killed them in cold blood."
"I cannot accept this cruelty and sadism" said Adrian Ilie, a 33-year-old manager and owner of three dogs.
The chairman of the nationalist Greater Romania Party, Sen. Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who has saved dozens of stray dogs in the past, joined the protest, calling on the mayor by megaphone to come out of his villa and meet the protesters.
Basescu was not in the villa at the time. Anti-riot police stood by, but no arrests were made. The villa is surrounded by a high metal fence.
Unbowed, Basescu insisted his was the best way to get rid of the dogs. "No protest by animal foundations and politicians will make me stop the plan to kill stray dogs," he said.
Basescu was going to start putting the dogs down earlier in the year, but his plan was suspended on March 1 after a foundation run by Bardot pledged $140,000 over two years to help sterilize strays. Basescu promised about $1.6 million in city money.
Under the plan, sick or aggressive dogs were to be killed immediately while healthy dogs were offered for adoption for 10 days, after which they would be killed.
Some 2,000 dogs were adopted. But on Thursday Basescu called the program off, charging that most of the strays were being let back onto the streets.
Basescu said he would allow dog adoptions to resume on Monday if applicants can guarantee the dogs would not end back on the streets.