22,000 birds seized as Ukraine fears spread of bird flu

Government ministers in the Ukraine are concerned that Avian flu which has been killing birds in the Crimean peninsula could spread to other parts of the country.

The parliament there has backed special measures to control the disease but Emergency Minister Viktor Baloga says the danger still exists for other regions.

A state of emergency was imposed by President Viktor Yushchenko in five villages in Crimea following the death of 2,500 birds at the weekend.

Baloga says it is better to adopt tougher measures otherwise there will be problems throughout the Ukraine.

Ukraine reported its first outbreak of the disease at the weekend but locals have said signs of the illness had been detected since September, but no measures had been taken to deal with it.

Outbreaks of a deadly form of avian flu have also been detected in birds in Romania on Ukraine's western border and in Russia to the east.

According to Baloga, government troops should complete a cull of domestic poultry in affected areas by Wednesday night.

Apparently more than 22,000 birds have already been seized in house-to-house checks of villages sealed off by the exclusion zones.

Authorities have sent samples of bird tissue to specialized laboratories in Britain and Italy to determine whether the strain is the deadly H5N1 detected in Romania and Russia.

H5N1 which is endemic in poultry in parts of Asia has killed almost 70 people, but experts fear the virus could mutate into a form which could be transmitted easily from person to person, creating a pandemic in which millions could die.

The Ukraine parliament has approved the president's decree on emergency rule, invoked for the first time since the Ukraine split from the Soviet Union 14 years ago.

However a motion approved by 291 members in the 450-seat house has demanded the president submit details of the measures, and how they would affect Ukrainians' rights.

There is some concern from opposition members that Yushchenko's weekend decree, which set no time limit on the measures, could disrupt a March 2006 parliamentary election as campaigning gets under way.

When the president toured affected areas on Monday he expressed frustration at the lack of action and ordered the dismissal of Ukraine's chief veterinarian.

Although officials from the emergency, agriculture and health ministries have declared the situation under control, with no new cases, they say the state of emergency is vital to contain the disease.

Government workers incinerated the domestic fowl while troops stood guard at checkpoints 3 km (two miles) outside the villages, restricting movement and barring any transport of meat.

It seems that villagers have received compensation for each confiscated bird, payments starting at $3 for a chicken and ranging to about $18 for a turkey.

Meanwhile doctors have carried out mass vaccinations for local residents against seasonal flu.

Ukraine's Health Ministry has urged consumers not to panic and said it was safe to eat poultry produced by industrial farms.

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