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Slovakia: Shooting of bear after rampage raises questions

A brown bear runs across a road next to a zebra crossing in the town of Liptovsky Mikulas, Slovakia on 17 March
The bear was captured on video running along streets in a town in northern Slovakia on 17 March

A brown bear that injured five people during a rampage in a Slovak town has been shot dead, Environment Minister Tomas Taraba says.

However, opposition politicians believe hunters may have shot a different bear and are calling for answers.

Video footage went viral when a brown bear bounded through the streets of Liptovsky Mikulas on 17 March.

Mr Taraba said it had been tracked down and killed after a 10-day hunt that used drone and biometric technology.

In a post on Facebook, the environment minister thanked all those who were involved in the operation.

But opposition politicians have called on Mr Taraba to clarify what happened and accuse the government of using the issue ahead of the presidential election on 6 April.

"I'm certain it's not the same bear. It's obvious," said Michal Wiezik, an environmental campaigner and MEP from opposition party Progressive Slovakia, who said shooting a bear that posed no threat amounted to a breach of Slovak and EU law.

He told the BBC that both the ministry and State Natural Protection Authority had said previously they were searching for a male bear weighing 80-100kg: "But we now know what they killed was a female bear weighing 67.9kg and measuring 152cm - 30% smaller than the bear in Liptovsky Mikulas."

A passer-by had found documents scattered by the roadside which had apparently been lost by members of the hunt team, he said.

The brown bear was captured on numerous photos and videos as it ran through the streets of the northern Slovak town earlier this month.

One video showed the bear swiping at a man on a pavement. Five people, including a 10-year-old girl, were injured, and two were taken to hospital with gashes and scratches.

One woman told a local paper she had been left traumatised by the attack.

A state of alert with heightened police patrols had been declared in districts across the region last week as a preventative measure against similar attacks.

Some members of Slovakia's populist nationalist government said the incident proved the need to loosen EU environmental protections on wildlife that prevent animals such as bears and wolves from being hunted.

"This is a case where a bear has brutally attacked people. One person almost lost an eye," Rudolf Huliak, an MP for the right-wing Slovak National Party - which is in charge of the environment ministry - told local media immediately after the incident.

Mr Huliak called for "a firm solution to the excessive number of bears".

The ministry plans - together with Romania - to appeal to EU colleagues to reclassify bears to allow selective culling.

Better environmental protection in Central and Eastern Europe since the fall of communism in 1989 has meant bears have returned to their natural habitats across the Carpathian mountain range, which stretches up from Romania through western Ukraine and on to Slovakia and Poland.

Researchers, however, say there has been no explosion in Slovakia's estimated bear population, which they say remains stable at around 1,275.