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August 8, 2009

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Edinburgh rats not on the fringe

TENS of thousands of people were flocking to Scotland's capital for yesterday's launch of the Edinburgh Fringe, one of the world's largest and most colorful arts festivals.

They were joined by some unwelcome visitors - increasing numbers of rats, encouraged by a six-week garbage collectors' dispute that has filled Edinburgh with overflowing trash bins, takeaway cartons and vermin. Scotland's Herald newspaper reported that calls to pest-control experts have surged since the dispute began on June 25.

The Fringe - a three-week celebration of performance, stand-up, theater and music that bills itself as the world's biggest arts festival - is one of the main events of Britain's cultural calendar.

It is the biggest in a group of arts festivals - including the Edinburgh Book Festival, the high-culture Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Military Tattoo - that draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Scottish capital every August.

Worst recession

It's important that this year's event is a success, and not just because Britain is suffering through its worst recession in decades.

Last year, a computer failure brought chaos to the Fringe, held in Edinburgh every August.

Ticket revenues plummeted, and the festival's director resigned in disgrace.

Organizers hope this year will run more smoothly. But garbage collectors have been on a work slowdown for six weeks as part of a labor dispute, and local residents fear the uncollected trash and stench of rotting and overflowing bins will harm the city's reputation.

"It's been like the city has returned to the Middle Ages, all that's missing is outbreak of the plague," said Melanie Reid of the New Town, a part of the city built in the 18th and 19th century to allow the wealthy to escape the open sewers and filth of the Old Town. "Some of it has been cleaned up, but it's still a mess in many places."


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