July 2, 2005

Crowd of 200,000 in Scotland urges poverty action

By Jeremy Lovell

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - A tide of some 200,000 people dressedin white streamed through Edinburgh on Saturday to demand thatleaders of rich nations agree measures to attack global povertyat a summit near the Scottish capital next week.

As part of a day of pressure on the Group of Eight nations,including the Live 8 rock concerts, the marchers urged richstates to double aid to poor countries, especially in Africa.They also called for debt relief and trade reform.

The marchers, wearing the color of the Make Poverty Historymovement -- a coalition of charities, churches and other groups-- flooded the streets of the historic city for five hours toform a human version of the campaign's white band symbol.

"This has delivered a historic moment. Ordinary people havecome and expressed clearly what they want," Matt Phillips ofthe Save the Children charity told Reuters. "There is nomisunderstanding the message -- end poverty and end injustice."

Police and organizers estimated the number of demonstratorsat 200,000, making the march one of the biggest in Scottishhistory.

Men, women and children from all corners of Europe flockedto Edinburgh to demand that the heads of the world's richestnations end the triple scourge of debt, disease and poverty.

"I am reassured that there are so many people who reallycare about what I care about," said teacher Caroline O'Neilfrom the county of Yorkshire. "The G8 should listen to whatpeople are saying, not come out with empty words next week."

Under blue skies and a blazing sun, the event was opened byCardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of Scotland's Roman Catholics,with a blessing from the Pope and a call on the G8 to takeheed.


"Our voice today is a legitimate voice to our electedleaders on behalf of the millions who have no voice," he said.

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, 65 km (40 miles) northwest ofEdinburgh, for a summit chaired by British Prime Minister TonyBlair who has put Africa at the top of the agenda.

Marchers said the G8 leaders had a unique chance to stop30,000 children dying every day because of 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,boost aid to them by about $50 billion per year -- around halfof it for Africa -- and knock down trade barriers which preventAfrican and other produce from getting 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,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.(Additional reporting by Andrew Gray)