Animal Rights group Speak has set up a political wing and says it hopes to contest up to 100 seats at the next General Election.

The group, which has been campaigning against the building of Oxford University's new medical research laboratory since work first began several years ago, said it planned to target seats with small majorities and ones where the current MP had spoken out in favour of animal testing.

Spokesman Robert Cogswell said a Speak candidate would definitely stand against Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris, who holds the Oxford West and Abingdon seat.

Mr Cogswell said he wanted to change public perception so animal rights activists were no longer seen as extremists - but still refused to condemn acts of terrorism carried out in the name of animal rights.

He said: "Speak Political gives us another weapon in the armoury."

He added that it was "an ideal opportunity to go out and talk to people on their doorsteps and break down the stereotypes of animal rights campaigners all being extremists and terrorists.

"I'm not going to go down the road of condemning acts of terrorism carried out in the name of animal rights, but I don't condone them."

He said the aim was not necessarily to win seats, but to take seats away from incumbent MPs. He added: "Dr Harris is very much an Oxford man and very much a mouthpiece for the university. We believe that by highlighting the issues, we can do him more some harm in his constituency."

Dr Harris said: "I always knew that my position of support for medical research using animals and support for the victims of animal rights extremism would make me a target.

"But in a way I welcome the fact that Speak are entering the political fray, where they will have to try to win the argument by reason and engaging in democracy, rather than by their other tactics of harassment and intimidation.

"I reject absolutely the suggestion that I am 'anti-animal' because I support the use of animals in human and veterinary research."