CRICKET authorities in the North-East were still hoping last night to reach a compromise with pro-democracy protestors prior to the region's historic first Test match - to be played in a fortnight.

Durham officials called for further talks with the Stop the Tour campaign group over some form of acceptable protest during next month's England/Zimbabwe match, the second Test of the series, at Chester-le-Street's Riverside ground.

The plea for an agreed form of protest was made despite Stop the Tour yesterday declaring war on cricket authorities, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the MCC, on the eve of tomorrow's first Test against Zimbabwe, at Lord's.

Campaigners opposed to the regime and human rights record of Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe threatened to cause mayhem during the game at the MCC's headquarters, the home of English cricket.

The move came hours after the ECB was condemned by 94 MPs for "putting profit before principle" by allowing the Zimbabwe tour to proceed.

Campaigner Peter Tatchell, leader of Stop the Tour, yesterday declared: "The gloves are off.

"We were willing to compromise, but the MCC rejected our offer to call off the planned disruptions in exchange for a visible symbolic protest inside the grounds," said Mr Tatchell.

"Having been spurned, we are under no obligation to show restraint. The MCC and the ECB must bear full responsibility for any chaos and mayhem."

Mr Tatchell accused the MCC of being "pitifully short-sighted and ill-judged", adding it "served neither the interests of cricket nor the battle for human rights in Zimbabwe".

Durham CCC chairman Bill Midgley will be a keen observer of events at Lord's.

"We'll keep in touch with what's happening. We are still talking to Mr Tatchell. I spoke to him on Monday and I promised I would get back by Thursday.

"Whether we can reach an accommodation with them remains to be seen. I'm not ruling anything out at the present time, but it may be the demands are too high.

"It's a question of what we consider reasonable. We've said we would be prepared to listen.

"Lord's would obviously be a focus for protest, being the centre for cricket and in London, but it would be wrong to make any comment as to what may happen in two weeks."

Mr Midgley added: "While we're still talking, there's hope."

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