August 11, 2009 / 4:19 PM / 10 years ago

Novartis CEO calls arsonists 'terrorists'

NEW YORK, Aug 11 (Reuters) - The chief executive of Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG NOVN.VX on Tuesday said animal rights activists engaged in “terrorism” and attempted to block medical progress by burning down his holiday home and desecrating the graves of his relatives.

“When you try to terrorize people and you burn their houses, when you desecrate graves and when you make death threats, to me that is way beyond activism and I would call this clearly terrorism,” Daniel Vasella said in an interview on CNBC television.

“These people tried to hinder medical progress and stand in front of new medicines for patients,” Vasella said.

Vandals burned his family’s holiday home in Austria after soaking both the entrance and exit of the house with gasoline, he said. Vasella and his family, including children ranging in age from 17 to 25, were not at home at the time of the Aug. 3 attack.

Vandals sprayed a Vasella family gravestone with the slogan “Drop HLS Now,” police said, a reference to the British animal-testing laboratory Huntingdon Life Sciences that has been a major target of protests by animal rights activists.

“Of course it’s highly unpleasant, to say the least, to be attacked so directly and threatened,” Vasella said in the television interview. “Of course, the objective is to terrorize and to instill fear, and it has been difficult, especially for the kids ... but we deal with it.”

Asked about the desecration of family graves, Vasella said, “It’s hurting and a lot of old memories come up of losses I experienced, especially my sister when she died of cancer ... and my father died when I was 13.

“So all these memories come up and, of course, that’s the intention. So, you try to deal with it in a rational way, without denying the feelings.”

The Austrian Interior Ministry has said a group called Militant Forces Against Huntingdon Life Science has claimed responsibility for the attacks. It said the claim was being investigated. (Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; editing by John Wallace)

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