Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Stolen flags add to last-minute hitches in Birmingham's plans

A FEW last-minute hitches marred preparations yesterday for the G8 summit which begins in Birmingham today. Four of the summit nations' flags were stolen in an overnight raid. The thieves also removed four 10ft poles from which the flags had been hung.

Despite a torrent of rain, several hundred square feet of yellow and curling grass were discovered alongside the A45 route which will bring President Bill Clinton into the city. The grass was quickly dealt with - spray-painted green. The flags took a little longer to resolve, but Birmingham City Council was confident yesterday that it would find replacements.

As the white and mainly male faces of the G8 nations arrived in convoys, representatives of what the charity Christian Aid has called "the Poor 8" got their chance to speak. Aid agencies and charities operating as the Jubilee 2000 coalition have joined forces to ask for a one-off cancellation of Third World debts to mark the new millennium.

Organisers of a demonstration tomorrow are hoping that it could attract up to 50,000 people - the biggest rally on a development issue since Live Aid - and force the G8 nations to act. Germany promised aid agencies that it would put the issue at the top of the summit agenda. Martin Drewry, of Christian Aid, said: "It is one of those moments when world history starts to happen. It is a unique opportunity."

Tales about the effects of Third World debt were told by representatives from Tanzania and Nicaragua, Jamaica and Bangladesh. Nunu Kidane, from Ethiopia, spoke for them all: "We would like to appeal to the G8 to give a chance to future generations ... give new hope by cancelling the debts by the year 2000."