Friday, June 03, 2005

G8 Protest Grows But It's a Tough Task

LONDON: Bob Geldof is aiming to galvanise the world to aid Africa with his Live 8 concerts next month and thousands of people will demonstrate in Scotland as leaders of the world's richest nations gather for a summit there.

But sceptics say Irish rocker Geldof's strong words and the aims of the Make Poverty History campaign he is backing to lift Africa out of grinding poverty by slashing debts, raising aid and boosting trade will achieve little except disappointment.

"There is a massive gap between the expectations created for this summit and the political reality on the ground," Tom Cargill, an analyst in the Africa section at the Royal Institute for International Affairs think-tank, told Reuters.

"Geldof sees himself as an African Messiah. He believes that his force of personality and hectoring will get the G8 leaders to change their minds. But it won't happen," he said. "The risk is the campaign will then turn into frustration."

For a continent crushed by debt, where millions live in poverty, life expectancy is just 46 and falling and adult prevalence of HIV/AIDS is the highest in the world, urgent help is vital - and Geldof believes he can get it delivered.

"It seemed to me that we could gather together again," he said, announcing five giant Live 8 concerts around the world for July 2, 20 years after he first plundered the world's pockets with the Live Aid concerts to aid famine relief in Ethiopia.

"But this time not for charity, but for political justice," he added.

Make Poverty History, an amalgam of some 300 aid agencies and pressure groups, hopes to get more than 100,000 people to march in Scotland's capital Edinburgh the same day, four days before the Group of Eight summit of top industrialised nations.

Other groups including Stop the War, G8 Dissent and G8 Alternatives also plan demonstrations in Edinburgh and near the heavily-guarded summit venue at the famed Gleneagles country hotel.

On Tuesday Geldof heaped fuel on the fire by calling for one million people to demonstrate.


Campaigners believe they have a unique opportunity to achieve their aims because British Prime Minister Tony Blair has pledged to put the environment and Africa at the top of the agenda for his year-long presidency of the G8.

But with just weeks to go before the leaders meet on July 6-8, Blair is facing rejection of his plans for debt relief and more aid, forcing him into a rushed round of shuttle diplomacy.

"One should encourage people to be concerned about this," John Weeks of London's School of Oriental and African Studies said of the mass movement to get the G8 to do more for Africa.

But he cautioned the campaigners could be fobbed off with fine statements which were not followed by actions.

"I don't see much coming out of the concerts and Make Poverty History are going to discover that their demands can be accommodated in words very easily," he said.

The prospect of mass protests has prompted a huge security operation around Gleneagles involving officers from forces across Britain and estimated to be costing 100 million pounds.

Workers are erecting a giant five-mile (eight-km) long steel fence around the venue and its world-renowned golf courses.

Learning the lessons of violence at past G8 summits in Genoa and Evian, police insist they will not be confrontational - no water cannon will be deployed and no rubber bullets fired - but demonstrations that turn nasty will be rapidly tackled.

"It is almost the iron fist in the velvet glove. While we will have a lot of resources in reserve, we are looking forward to people coming up here and we will facilitate their lawful protests," Superintendent Craig Suttie of Tayside police said.


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