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MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Jan. 30) - Indonesia's President, Megawati Sukarnoputri, has ordered the immediate culling of all poultry flocks in the country infected by bird flu.

Our correspondent in Jakarta, Tim Palmer, says the decision reverses the Government's insistence that Indonesia would be able to control the disease without the mass slaughtering of birds.

The World Health Organization had repeatedly told Indonesia that its plans to attempt a program of vaccinating chickens and disinfecting poultry farms would not work and that the best defense against further infection was culling.

Now President Megawati has ordered that all infected poultry be immediately culled.

The welfare ministry says millions of birds have been infected by the virus, which is now in 10 Asian countries.

Meanwhile, there has been a new outbreak of bird flu in ducks and chickens in southern Taiwan.

Agricultural authorities say 10,000 ducks and 36,000 chickens will be killed at four farms.

Authorities say the virus detected is the H5N2 strain, a less virulent form than the H5N1 strain, which has killed 10 people in Vietnam and Thailand.

China has killed more than 83,000 poultry in three provinces and plans to kill another 110,000 in the next few days.

The capital, Beijing, has also announced a number of precautionary measures to halt the virus's spread.

Our China correspondent, John Taylor, says it has banned the slaughter of poultry in markets, and prohibited the sale of uninspected poultry meat.

There will also be tighter scrutiny and control of poultry products entering Beijing from other parts of the country.

Citizens have been told to report any case of bird flu to the Municipal Food Safety Office.

Anyone who delays in making a report also faces unspecified but "severe punishment."

Pakistan has ordered the culling of all poultry infected with bird flu in the south of the country.

Pakistan only this week confirmed less virulent strains of the H5N1 strain of the virus, however, the country's poultry association says the virus has killed 3.5 million chickens around the port city of Karachi since November.

Agriculture officials put the toll at under one million, saying only 10 per cent of "layers," or chickens bred for their eggs, around Karachi had been infected.

No compensation has been offered to farmers for the poultry culled.

The World Health Organization has held talks with drugs firms and international laboratories on developing a vaccine to fight bird flu.

Officials say any such protection is probably still some six months away, but that they soon hope to have a prototype of the bird flu virus that could serve as the basis for a vaccine.

In Hong Kong, a 75-year-old woman has been quarantined after recently returning from Vietnam with flu symptoms.

The action has been taken as a precaution amid fears that the deadly bird flu that has killed 10 people in Asia is spreading.

All of the human victims are believed to have caught the disease from contact with sick chickens.

Meanwhile, the European Union has halted imports of exotic pet birds from South East Asia, in response to the worsening avian flu crisis in the region.

The Australian Government is reassuring the public about the potential impact on Australia of the Asian bird flu.

The Agriculture Minister, Warren Truss, says the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service is launching a major campaign at airports to alert travelers to the dangers of importing the virus.

Australia will also provide $A1 million ($US772,000) to regional organizations in Asia to assist them with dealing with the Avian flu outbreak.

But Mr Truss says Australia is well protected.

"We don't have this strain of Avian Influenza in Australia and we don't expect it to come," he said.

"We have a very effective quarantine arrangement at the border that will be especially targeted over the months ahead with passengers arriving from that region."

January 30, 2004

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