50,000 protest at G8 inaction over debt

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The Independent Online
PEOPLE power came to the streets of Birmingham yesterday in a wave of protest against Third World debt so great that it brought the Prime Minister back from his G8 summit retreat and forced an acknowledgement from the world leaders present, writes Louise Jury.

At least 50,000 people, maybe twice that, held hands and blew whistles as church bells rang out over the biggest demonstration of support for the poorest countries of the world since Live Aid. The people formed a seven-mile chain to call for the cancellation of Third World debt to mark the millennium. They sang "We shall overcome" and Bob Marley's "Redemption Song".

Organised by the Jubilee 2000 coalition of churches, aid agencies and charities, the people had been asked to wear chains - 100,000 lapel badges of tiny links had been sold - or the colour red.

Clare Short, the international development secretary, arrived at St Philip's Cathedral in time to link hands with members of the coalition before receiving boxes of petitions containing 1.5 million signatures.

"I think what you are achieving today is more than putting pressure on the leadership of the G8 to cancel debt, however important that is," she told the crowd. "This is a declaration of the end of the selfishness and greed of the 1980s... Idealism is alive and well in politics."

The turnout was, in the end, acknowledged by the leaders. At the last moment, Tony Blair said he would meet the Jubilee 2000 leaders in the afternoon.

Coalition spokeswoman Ann Pettifor was delighted that the chair of G8 had "finally acknowledged the extraordinary worldwide movement present in Birmingham today. We said all along that people in the streets of Birmingham were as important as eight men in a country house".

Despite this, the G8 rejected the demand for an end to debt, agreeing a package of much less ambitious objectives.

Reports, page 6 Leading article, Section 2