Romanian lawmakers on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly for a law allowing stray dogs to be put down after a four-year-old boy was mauled to death by a pack of strays last week.

The law, which enables the state to put dogs to sleep if they are not claimed two weeks after being picked up from the streets, received the approval of 266 deputies compared with just 23 against. A further 20 abstained.

Hundreds of animal-rights activists gathered outside parliament in Bucharest to urge lawmakers to vote against the move, saying they would prefer dogs were sterilised rather than killed.

The death of the child after he was repeatedly bitten by stray dogs near a park in the capital prompted a national outcry.

Between 40,000 and 60,000 stray dogs live on the streets of Bucharest, most of them fed and looked after by animal lovers.

The wording of the law agreed Tuesday must still be approved by President Traian Basescu, a proponent of killing street dogs, before coming into force.

A previous law allowing the euthanasia of street dogs was declared unconstitutional in January 2012.

Romania's stray dog problem dates back to the 1980s, when a series of buildings were demolished at the behest of the country's former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

Entire neighbourhoods of houses grouped around courtyards disappeared, to be replaced by blocks of flats without enough room for dogs.

Abandonment is also a source of the problem, with many puppies failing to undergo routine sterilisation.

According to non-governmental groups, nearly 145,000 stray dogs were killed in Bucharest between 2001 and 2007 before euthanasia was banned.

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