Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch, ignoring the protests of animal rights activists, defiantly led the start of a six-day festival today during which he planned to kill pigs and bulls and paint pictures with their blood.

The controversial show went ahead despite protests from former French screen actress Brigitte Bardot and Austrian far-right Freedom Party leader Joerg Haider.

Some 50 animal rights activists tried to prevent the show opening by blocking the entrance to Prinzendorf castle, the festival venue just north of Vienna. Their efforts were in vain.

Bardot said 100 art students would trample the innards of the bulls and pigs at the festival and the blood from them used in pictures painted by Nitsch, "this master of horror."

"I cannot believe that a country as dignified as Austria can accept such obscene rites of butchery from another age," Bardot said last week.

Haider slammed the festival.

Referring to the students, he said that art "in which children will abuse and lose their sexual integrity, where religious feeling will be crushed and where the basic principles of human rights activists will be disregarded" should have no state support.

The show, to which Austrian state television has acquired the broadcast rights, was described by Bardot as "a satanic spectacle."

Bardot, who has spent the past 20 years defending animal rights, flew to Austria at the weekend to increase pressure on the government to ban the show.