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Workers cull 8,000 chickens on China farm - paper

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HONG KONG, Apr 18 (Reuters) Authorities have culled about 8,000 chickens in a poultry farm in China's eastern Shandong province after 400 chickens died there last week, a Hong Kong newspaper reported today.

The South China Morning Post said the farmer, identified only by his surname Chen, was ordered by officials not to talk about the cull as ''it was a state secret''. He and his wife were given injections on Sunday, but they did not know what they were for.

Over 400 chickens died at Chen's farm in Laixi city last week.

The farmer reported the deaths on Saturday to the city's animal husbandry bureau, which sent staff to collect samples of the dead chickens on the same day.

But Chen said he was not told of any test results before about 30 workers dressed in protective garments moved in to kill and bury the remainder of his chicken stock on Sunday.

The newspaper cited a Shandong Bird Flu Control Office official as denying there was an outbreak of bird flu, saying authorities were still determining the cause of the deaths.

The chicken deaths come as a deadly strain of the H5N1 avian flu virus is spreading quickly around the world, with more than 30 countries reporting outbreaks of the disease.

It has spread across Asia, into parts of the Middle East, Africa and Europe since 2003.

Although only 194 people are known to have been infected so far and 109 of them have died, scientists fear the virus could mutate into a form that jumps easily between people and trigger a global flu pandemic.

REUTERS PDS PM0733

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