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Fresh Dixie Chicks Row Erupts

US country stars Dixie Chicks have angered US radio programmers again after singer Natalie Maines' apparent jibe at fellow country star Toby Keith at an awards ceremony.

Maines wore a T-shirt with the letters FUTK on the front at the Academy of Country Music Awards last month.

It was seen as a thinly-veiled insult directed at Toby Keith, the singer behind the patriotic post-11 September country standard Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).

The Grammy-winning Dixie Chicks were banned from many country station playlists after Maines criticized President George W Bush just days before the recent war with Iraq.

Several music programmers at country stations across the US have again expressed concern about playing Dixie Chicks songs.

With all the patriotism in the air that night, it was a downer and completely unnecessary," said Cadillac Jack, music programmer of Philadelphia's WXTU on Monday. "I was disappointed with them yet again."

Programming director Brian Jennings of Nebraska station KZKX said: "Just when you think it's safe to add the Chicks back into rotation… Oh, Natalie, why do you make it so hard to love you?"

Another programmer claimed the pair's spat was giving country music "a black eye".

Maines and Keith have traded insults in the press over the past year.

Keith was criticized by Maines in interviews last year while he, in turn, claimed Maines was not in his league as a songwriter.

Keith has played concerts since Maines' anti-Bush comments with a backdrop showing a doctored photo of Maines with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Since the Dixie Chicks' comments the group has seen its records burnt by pro-Bush groups.

When they played their first concert date in the US since the war, in Greenville, South Carolina, last month, an anti-Dixie Chicks concert was held in a neighboring town.

The Dixie Chicks have been one of the most popular country acts in the US in recent years, winning several times at the Country Music Awards.

The group's hits include Wide Open Spaces, Ready to Run and Landslide.

Earlier this year Maines tried to limit the damage caused by her comments by apologizing to President Bush, saying her remark was "disrespectful".

There has since been unease expressed in some quarters that views criticizing the current administration are seen as anti-patriotic and are not being given a fair hearing.