Reuters International

Animal activists hold banners against Yulin Dog Meat Festival in front of Yulin City Representative office in Beijing, China, June 10, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

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YULIN, China (Reuters) - China's southern city of Yulin geared up on Monday for its upcoming dog meat festival despite widespread opposition from activists calling for an end to the slaughter and eating of the animals.

The annual event starting on Tuesday features consumption of the meat with thousands of dogs expected to be killed. Animal rights activists this month handed Beijing authorities a petition with 11 million signatures protesting the festival.

While the event is a source of pride for many locals, it has received increased scrutiny and this year, residents said they had noted more police on the streets near well-known dog meat restaurants and markets.

Several restaurants had also noticeably removed references to dog meat from their signs. Restaurant owners declined to comment on the reason.

The Yulin government has distanced itself from the festival, saying it was staged by private business people and did not have official backing.

(Reporting By Joseph Campbell Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

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