LONDON (Reuters) - The government has unveiled plans to stop animal rights campaigners intimidating scientists after warnings from the pharmaceutical industry that militant tactics threaten domestic investment and jobs.
The government said on Friday it would give police powers to arrest radicals protesting outside scientists' homes and strengthen harassment laws to stop campaigners targeting groups of people.
"By toughening up the law on protests and harassment, and with robust enforcement by the police, and courts, the government intends to put a stop to the animal extremists' reign of terror," said minister Caroline Flint in a statement.
Animals rights is an emotive issue, and campaigners have had some high profile successes.
Last week campaigners forced a company called Montpellier Group to pull out of building a research laboratory at Oxford University.
In January, plans for a primate research laboratory in Cambridge were scrapped after protests, although a court on Friday ruled the government could grant it planning permission.
Some militants use hate mail, threats and protests outside individuals' homes to try to stop experiments on animals in what scientists say are the most extreme such tactics in the world.
The pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, which argue animal testing has helped save hundreds of millions of lives, welcomed the plans.
"The government is now committed to solving the problem and has recognised that animal rights intimidation is now an issue of terrorism," said Trevor Jones, Director General of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.
Top business figures say the targeting of scientists by militants is driving investment and jobs out of Britain, and the sector's financial support for academic research with animals puts pressure on the government.
This week GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca and U.S.-based Pfizer -- the three biggest drugs firms with research operations in Britain -- pledged 4 million pounds for university animal research.
The National Association of Pension Funds, whose members oversee more than 600 billion pounds of assets, is even considering offering rewards for the arrest of animal militants who intimidate employees of financial institutions.
Groups opposed to experiments on animals, heartened by Montpellier's decision, have vowed to continue demonstrating.
"This will not stop compassionate people protesting against vivisection and we urge the government to invest in developing alternatives to animal testing," Sean Gifford, European director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, told Reuters.
After the plans were unveiled, activists waved a graphic of a primate used in brain research, with the top of its skull cut off and electrodes implanted in the brain, at the Home Office.