Seven dead and eight injured in hunting accidents since 1996

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The head of a local hunting association was accidentally shot dead by one of his colleagues on Sunday during a hunt near the town of Zlin in South Moravia. There have been a number of accidental shootings by hunters in recent years and several have been fatal. Hunting is a popular pastime in the Czech Republic and despite calls for stricter legislation, a new law giving hunters even more advantages comes into force in June. Pavla Horakova has more.

Seven dead and eight injured - that is a sad record of hunting accidents in the Czech Republic since 1996. These figures alone are bad enough. But opponents of the sport say there is more damage inflicted by hunters than killing innocent people. Environmentalists say hunters harm protected species and land owners protest against trespassing on their property during hunts.

A new hunting law was signed by the president in December. It was described as a compromise between hunters and their supporters in parliament on one side, and environmentalists and land-owners on the other. After the Lower House passed the bill in September, Radio Prague spoke to Christian Democrat MP Libor Ambrozek, one of the law's fiercest opponents. He told us there were two reasons why there was such a strong hunting lobby in the Lower House:

"First, the hunters are extremely well-organised, with more than 100,000 rank and file members and a close link to left-wing parties dating back to the Communist era. The second reason is that hunting has recently become a popular hobby for the well-off, that's why they have good contacts with right-wing parties as well. So when you put these two things together, they created a powerful lobby we were unable to defeat."

The law will come into force in June this year and will grant even more liberties to hunters. They will still be allowed to hunt certain protected species. Their guards will be allowed to stop and check cars for poached game, armed hunters will be allowed to enter private property when seeking wounded animals (something even the police can't do - they need a warrant), and they will also have the right to shoot stray dogs and cats on sight.

Opponents of the law argue that it is in conflict with European Union legislation and will have to be changed anyway before the Czech Republic joins the EU. Those opponents have their sights set on the men in green - but don't expect any radical crackdown on hunting just yet.