The discovery of more than 20 dead dogs and 30 cats within a park in Athens has led to a mass demonstration by animal lovers.

Nearly 4,000 people turned up to demonstrate against the slaughter of stray dogs and cats living in a park in central Athens.

Housed in the park is the Zappeion Hall, which is currentlybeing used as a meeting place for European Union ministers while Greece holds the EU presidency for the next six months.

Many believe that the animals were destroyed because they “spoil the scenery”. Dishes containing poison have been found which has sparked fears that the animals were deliberately poisoned.

Angela Flemming, a South African animal rights activist, told The Times: “This was a deliberate slaughter, this is the third time Greece has had the EU presidency and the third time we have seen this.”

Greece’s record of animal welfare is notoriously poor, but the past 10 years have seen a significant improvement, which is why Greek animal welfare charities are so upset by the poisonings.

Mary Cochran, a volunteer working in Athens for Friends of the Cat, is devastated by this incident. She said: “It is so sad – things have improved greatly in recent years and then something like this happens.

“All the dogs and cats were neutered and vaccinated and we received many compliments by both locals and tourists impresses at how well the animals looked.

“These poisonings were definitely an organised effort rather than the work of one person – our worry is this was a trial run for removing all the strays before Athens 2004.”