July 2, 2005

Thousands march to push G8 on African poverty

By Jeremy Lovell

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of demonstratorsdressed in white marched through Edinburgh on Saturday todemand leaders of rich nations agree measures to tackle globalpoverty at a summit nearby next week.

As part of a day of pressure on the Group of Eight nationsincluding the Live 8 rock concerts, the marchers in Edinburghurged rich states double aid to poor countries, especially inAfrica. They also called for debt relief and trade reform.

The demonstrators wearing the color of the Make PovertyHistory movement -- a coalition of charities, churches andother groups -- streamed through the streets of the historiccity to form a human version of the campaign's white bandsymbol.

"Our voice today is a legitimate voice to our electedleaders on behalf of the millions who have no voice," saidCardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of Scotland's Roman Catholics.

"I say to you listen to us, listen to the voice of yourpeople," he said in a speech as the demonstrators gathered insunshine at the large Meadows park near the city center.

Demonstrators held placards with slogans such as "Wipe OutDebt," "Trade Justice" and "People Before Profit." Bagpipersand bongo drummers provided an international mix of music.

The G8 leaders meet from next Wednesday at the luxuryGleneagles hotel and golf resort, some 65 km (40 miles)northwest of Edinburgh, for a summit chaired by British PrimeMinister Tony Blair who has put Africa at the top of theagenda.


Marchers said the G8 leaders had a unique chance to stop30,000 children dying every day due to extreme poverty.

"I never, ever march but this time I felt I had to," saidWilliam Bertram, 55, from Edinburgh.

"Poverty is a sin and it is wrong that so many have solittle," he said. "I hope this march makes a difference nextweek."

The campaign wants the G8 to cancel poor countries' debts,double their aid -- a boost of about $50 billion per year,around half of it for Africa -- and knock down trade barrierswhich prevent them getting access to Western markets.

"We need more support and better support to agriculture sothat we can produce food and feed ourselves," Mubanga Kasakula,a farmers' leader from Zambia, told reporters before the march.

The campaigners' message has won wide support in Britain,this year's G8 president, and is largely endorsed by Blair.

But some aid experts say African countries may struggle toabsorb a sudden and massive increase in cash and that writingoff debt could encourage irresponsible financial management.

A group of about 20 anarchists scuffled with police soonafter the march began but there was no sign of the more seriousviolence that accompanied some G8 protests in other countries.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Gray)