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Third World Debt: Success for a 'rainbow' campaign

FEW CAMPAIGNS have united so many fringe and mainstream groups so quickly on such a broad front to so much effect as the campaign to drop Third World debt.

LiveAid might have got us to give on a massive scale but the general public never really grappled with why many of the nations that benefitted from such events were in such an invidious position in the first place. Not until public school gap year students joined with crusty anarchists to riot in the City in the summer and again in central London last month. Not until the Pope appeared on television rubbing shoulders with Bono, singer with the Irish rock band U2 and a leading drop the debt campaigner.

And organisers of the World Trade Organisation conference in Seattle, and the city's mayor, are still scratching their heads over the violent protests and strength of feeling that left the city reeling.

The 'rainbow' coalition of groups that has become the drop the debt campaign had its beginning 1996 when church groups and charities came together to mark millennial poverty. The groups, such as the Catholic charity group Cafod, Christian Aid, trade unions and the Mothers Union, centred on the notion of "jubilee", the concept that every seven or 50 yearsrulers wipe out debts and offer prisoner amnesties.

The coalition formed Jubilee 2000 to campaign for developed nations, their bankers and institutions to work to a similar principle of debt write-off to some of the world's poorest nations. Andrew Simms, from the New Economics Foundation, a think tank that advises on poverty, recalled his meetings with Gordon Brown and Tony Blair shortly after the General Election to ask them to drop Third World debt. "Tony Blair said to me: "Of course, you are right but you are not going to get anything to happen until you can demonstrate that there is very broad public support."

A year later at the G8 summit in Birmingham, 50,000 people linked hands to form a human chain around the summit building. What was remarkable, what made world leaders take note, said Mr Simms, was that it was not a collection of "crusties" but "the blue rinse brigade, middle Englanders in force".

The campaign's roots were global within a year, culminating in a worldwide day of protest on 18 June, when most of the world's capitals were beset by protests of every description. Last month, Seattle saw it all again and Britain felt it could not ignore the movement's demands any longer.