July 3, 2005

Live 8 rocks the world, but will it help the poor?

By Mike Collett-White and Mark Egan

LONDON/PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - After a galaxy of starsrocked the world in the largest live concert ever held,politicians said on Sunday people power could make a differenceas world leaders prepared to meet to relieve poverty.

Over a million people listened to rock and pop musicians atvenues across four continents on Saturday to demand that theGroup of Eight wealthy nations cancel the debts of poor Africancountries and boost aid at a summit in Scotland on Wednesday.

British finance minister Gordon Brown, an advocate of debtrelief, said public opinion had already helped to shape recentagreements on debt relief and aid. But adding a note ofcaution, he said empowering African people was a "lifetime'swork."

"I think you've seen that ministers around the world havebeen affected by the strength of public opinion, churches,faith groups, and it does have an impact," Brown told BBCTelevision.

Pope Benedict, addressing crowds in St Peter's Square oneday after Rome staged one of the Live 8 concerts, said he hopedthe G8 summit would bring genuine and lasting relief to Africa.

But many commentators questioned whether the musicextravaganza could influence policy making at the summit inGleneagles and whether aid was the answer to Africa's problems.

More than 26 million people worldwide sent text messages onSaturday to support Live 8, setting a world record for a singleevent, organizers said. Several billion tuned in worldwide.

In Edinburgh, close to where the G8 meets, 200,000 peoplemarched peacefully to back the Make Poverty History campaign.

"For God's sake, take this seriously. Don't behavenormally. Don't look for compromises. Be great," a Live 8statement said.

The media in Britain, where the build-up to Live 8 has hada higher profile than in other countries, hailed organizer,rocker Bob Geldof, and the 170 pop acts who graced stages.

"A beautiful day," said the Independent on Sunday. "Is thatloud enough for you?" asked the Sunday Times. Someparticipants, though, were more skeptical.

In Philadelphia, where hundreds of thousands crammed thestreets to hear Will Smith and Stevie Wonder, singer AliciaKeys questioned America's interest in helping Africa.

"America has a sense of disconnect when it comes to Africaor places that are very far away because many of us, most ofus, won't get the opportunity to see those places," she said.

Limited television coverage in the United States could alsodampen the impact of such an impressive show of people power.


Britain's Peter Mandelson, the European Union's TradeCommissioner, said the pressure had to be maintained.

"They can't ignore it," he told BBC Television. "We need tosee ... that energy channeled into continuing pressure andinterest and attention not just to the issues of humanitarianaid and debt relief, but trade."

The G8 is unlikely to make major progress on lowering tradebarriers. World trade talks are set for Hong Kong in December.

But concerts from Tokyo to Berlin, from Barrie, nearToronto, to the Circus Maximum in Rome and the Chateau deVersailles shone the world's spotlight on the plight of Africa.

The numbers in Moscow's Red Square were low, perhapsunsurprising in a country where more than a quarter of thepopulation lives below the poverty line. In Johannesburg,Nelson Mandela addressed nearly 10,000 people.

London's Hyde Park had the strongest line-up, with PaulMcCartney, Bono, Madonna, Elton John, Pink Floyd, The Who andGeorge Michael entertaining 200,000 people.

The raucous crowd fell silent when Live 8 organizer BobGeldof replayed Live Aid footage of dying Ethiopians. Afterfreezing on the image of a girl on the verge of death, the sameperson, a now healthy Birhan Woldu, was introduced on stage.

Geldof, behind the Live Aid concerts 20 years ago thatraised $100 million for Africa, wants a doubling of aid, a debtwrite-off and fairer trade for the world's poorest continent.

"Mahatma Gandhi freed a continent, Martin Luther King freeda people, Nelson Mandela freed a country. It does work," hesaid.

But Live 8 has sparked debate over whether making moneyavailable to African governments encourages corruption.

"Throwing money at African governments is not the answer,"the brother of South African President Thabo Mbeki wrote.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux)