Authorities plan to kill tens of thousands of stray dogs in the Ethiopian capital using strychnine-laced meat, saying they want to eradicate rabies before next week's celebration of the Coptic millennium.

The latest plan follows an announcement by a government-funded private organization last week that it would move thousands of homeless people from the capital to the countryside ahead of the celebration, promising to help them with food, shelter and medicine.

Animal rights activists and commentators have condemned the proposal to kill dogs.

Ethiopia follows the Coptic calendar, which is about seven years behind the more common Gregorian. Among the celebrations scheduled is a concert by the U.S. pop group Black Eyed Peas in a $20 million hall being built for the occasion. The celebrations are expected to draw tourists from around the world.

"We want rabies to be history by the next millennium," said Tafa Hunde, who is in charge of animal health and quarantine services for the city. "The dogs are not vaccinated, there is no one who manages them."

There are no official figures on rabies deaths in Ethiopia.

"Dogicide is an act that should be condemned in the strongest words possible, and a cause worth fighting for," Kassahun Addis wrote in this week's edition of the Sub-Saharan Informer, a weekly newspaper.

Efrem Legese, president of the Homeless Animals Protection Society, said he has written letters to Addis Ababa Mayor Berhane Deressa and to Vice Prime Minister Addisu Legesse, begging them to stop the plans to kill the dogs with meat laced with strychnine, a cheap and powerful poison often used to kill rats.

"It's painful," Efrem said. "They suffer a lot."

He proposes that authorities sterilize street dogs and those with rabies or chronic conditions be killed using Phenobarbital, a seizure medication that usually takes away consciousness before causing death.

Addis Ababa residents have conflicting views about the proposed plans to get rid of strays.

"The dogs should be killed," said Solomon Neguisse, 70, who guards a private school in the capital. "They contaminate children."

Asma Abdella, a 17 year-old street vendor, disagrees.

"Why are they killing them?" said Asma. "They are creatures of Allah. The administration should encourage people to take them home."

Asma said, however, she did not keep a dog because her Muslim faith forbids it.