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Pro-hunt pack storms British House
A TV picture shows pro-hunting protesters, in white T-shirts, storming parliament in London. (Reuters)

London, Sept 15 (Reuters): Six pro-hunting demonstrators burst into the floor of Britain's parliament today in the week's second stunning breach of security at a landmark site.

The stunt ' which briefly halted debate among astonished legislators ' came two days after a fathers' rights campaigner scaled a balcony at Queen Elizabeth's Buckingham Palace.

Dressed in white T-shirts bearing the faces of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie, the protesters raced into the ancient chamber and came within inches of a government minister who was leading debate.

The breach calls into question Britain's softy-softly attitude to security in which high officials appear in public with low-profile protection, most police patrol unarmed and the public can gain access to key institutions such as parliament.

The low-key approach contrasts with the US, which has tightened 'homeland security' across daily life. 'They could have done absolutely anything,' said legislator Claire Ward of the ruling Labour Party. 'The Opposition will be demanding a major and urgent inquiry,' added James Paice of the opposition Conservatives.

Security had been tightened at parliament, not only in response to an increased global threat of terrorism, but after an unprecedented attack on Blair in May.

Then, two men campaigning for fathers' rights to see their children, hit Blair with purple powder missiles as virtually the entire government convened in the House of Commons. The substance was harmless; the embarrassment acute.

The intrusion came as some 10,000 protesters marched outside parliament to rail noisily against a likely vote by British politicians to ban fox-hunting. After shouting and waving, the intruders were hauled away by parliamentary guards in ceremonial black suits.

Their stunt brings to a head a growing national debate over balancing security with democratic access and adds to a recent litany of high-profile breaches of security.

'If you want total separation of the government of this country from the public you can do it with barbed wire,' said security analyst Tim Ripley, of Lancaster University.

'But the aim is to let members of the public meet their representatives... You will always risk this rogue moment,' he said.

Just before the protesters broke in, riot police carrying shields and truncheons battled demonstrators outside parliament in central London. The supporters blew horns, jeered, threw bottles, set off firecrackers and surged towards police lines. The skirmishes left some protesters bleeding.

Blair vowed to outlaw hunting with hounds when he took power in 1997 but fierce opposition has repeatedly stalled that. But Blair, whose authority over his Labour Party has been eroded by the Iraq war, is now determined to push through a ban before an expected general election next year.

Opponents denounce hunting as a barbaric bloodsport while supporters defend it as an essential part of rural life.

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