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Historic rock concerts put spotlight on poverty

July 3, 2005

By Claudia Parsons and Paul Majendie

PHILADELPHIA/LONDON (Reuters) – More than a million peoplegathered in cities across the world on Saturday for Live 8, thebiggest music concert ever held to pressure rich nations to domore for the poor.

As the gigs wound down, organizers turned their thoughts toWednesday when the leaders of the Group of Eight industrializednations meet in Scotland to discuss aid to Africa.

Live 8 coordinator Bob Geldof urged 200,000 fans inLondon’s Hyde Park to demand “No more excuses” from the G8.

“Mahatma Gandhi freed a continent, Martin Luther King freeda people, Nelson Mandela freed a country. It does work. Theywill listen,” Geldof said.

He was joined on stage by Paul McCartney, who opened theLondon gig with a rendition of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely HeartsClub Band,” Bono, Madonna, Elton John and a re-formed PinkFloyd.

Live 8 eclipsed Live Aid 20 years ago, when Geldof pulledoff a pop world sensation by gathering dozens of acts to raisemore than $100 million for Ethiopian famine victims.

This time he wants change through political pressure,calling for debt forgiveness, a doubling of aid to poor nationsand fair trade to allow African countries to compete.Organizers say up to 2 billion people will tune in to watch theconcerts.

The biggest crowd was in Philadelphia, where hundreds ofthousands saw actor Will Smith, P Diddy and Stevie Wonder.

But limited television coverage in the United States coulddampen the impact of such an impressive show of people power.

“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,” said singerAlicia Keys.

Others, like former South African President Nelson Mandelaspeaking in Johannesburg, were determined to put pressure onrich countries.

“I say to all those leaders, do not look the other way. Donot hesitate. We ask our leaders to demonstrate commitment, notengage in hollow promises. It is within your power to avoid agenocide of humanity.”

U2′s Bono summed up the message: “We’re not asking you toput your hand in your pockets but we are asking people to puttheir fist in the air.”

MOMENT OF EMOTION

London’s raucous crowd was silent when Geldof replayed LiveAid footage of dying Ethiopians. After freezing on the image ofa girl on the verge of death, the same person, a now healthyBirhan Woldu, was introduced on stage.

If the message was that Live Aid really did make adifference, not everyone was sure Live 8 could do the same.

“I don’t think the awareness thing is working,” said SueKim, a 22-year-old student, in Philadelphia. “There’s going tobe a lot of drunk people and what are they going to remember?”

There is also concern within Africa that boosting aid tocountries may only bolster corrupt governments.

G8 leaders meet on July 6-8 near Edinburgh, where 200,000demonstrators marched peacefully through the city to back theMake Poverty History campaign.

Tokyo kicked off Live 8 with Icelandic star Bjork, whoexpressed the despair she felt in the face of Africa’sproblems.

“I look at the news, I see people starving, I am crying.I’m a total mess,” she said.

Live 8 was also staged in the Circus Maximus in Rome andbefore a crowd of 150,000 in Berlin where most Germans felt itwas a good idea even if they had doubts about its impact.

Stonemason Bernd Oppermann said: “I think every littlething helps to raise awareness about poverty no matter howsmall, and hey, this is the greatest rock concert in theworld.”

In Barrie, near Toronto, 35,000 people turned out for themusical feast, while France’s concert boasted the Chateau deVersailles as its elegant backdrop.

The crowd in Moscow’s Red Square was small, perhapsunsurprising in a country where more than a quarter of thepopulation lives below the poverty line.

And in Johannesburg, most of those interviewed among thecrowd of 10,000 had never even heard of Geldof.

He has been criticized for largely excluding Africanartists.

Musician Peter Gabriel stepped in with a separate, smallergig for African performers, and Johannesburg was added to thelist of venues, but that has not been enough to preventGeldof’s detractors from accusing him of “cultural apartheid.”(Reporting by Reuters bureaus)




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