Geldof urges millions to join 'long walk to justice'

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He wants it to be the biggest political protest ever, aimed at convincing eight men in one room in Scotland that they can - and should - change the world. With characteristic ambition and political passion, superlatives and expletives, Sir Bob Geldof explained yesterday why Live8, his 20th anniversary successor to Live Aid, should be far more than simply the most impressive concert fans will have ever seen.

He wants it to be the biggest political protest ever, aimed at convincing eight men in one room in Scotland that they can - and should - change the world. With characteristic ambition and political passion, superlatives and expletives, Sir Bob Geldof explained yesterday why Live8, his 20th anniversary successor to Live Aid, should be far more than simply the most impressive concert fans will have ever seen.

Taking place on 2 July, the Saturday before a summit of the most powerful leaders in the world at Gleneagles, Live8 will comprise simultaneous concerts in five of the G8 countries - Britain, France, Italy, Germany and the US.

An A to Z of pop royalty were confirmed yesterday as taking part, including Madonna, Coldplay, Robbie Williams and U2 in London's Hyde Park, Stevie Wonder and 50 Cent in Philadelphia, Brian Wilson in Berlin and Duran Duran in Rome. The Spice Girls and possibly Pink Floyd may reform for the event.

But Sir Bob said the free concerts were just the beginning, the rallying point, for what he called "a long walk to justice".

Whereas 20 years ago, millions of individuals gave donations to help ease the famine in Africa, the aim now is to make the politicians play their part in tackling poverty which is killing 50,000 people a day, or a child every three seconds.

One million people have already signed up to websites and 3.5 million Make Poverty History wrist-bands are in circulation in what Sir Bob said was "possibly the biggest coalition ever assembled", from the conservative religious right in America to the artistic left in the UK.

After the concerts, planes, trains, boats and lorries are being lined up to carry up to a million protesters to Scotland to lobby the world leaders to cancel debt, double aid and remove trade barriers that hobble Africa's capacity to harness its own potential.

Sir Bob has put Midge Ure in charge of arrangements in Scotland, a task whose overwhelming logistics Ure clearly understood. He appealed to religious groups and anyone with a spare room or a garage to play host to the anticipated hordes.

Plans are also in place to display thousands of photographs of supporters who cannot attend in Princes Street in Edinburgh to reinforce the message. Sir Bob has even written to the Pope to ask him to attend. Despite the manifest audacity of the mission, he said it was a unique opportunity "to tilt the world a little bit on its axis in favour of the poor".

"The G8 leaders have it within their power to alter history. They will only have the will to do so if millions of people show them that enough is enough," he said.

He admitted he had long held the view that another Live Aid should not be attempted. "I couldn't see how anything could possibly be better than that glorious day 20 years ago, almost perfect in what it achieved. I didn't want to do 'Bob's best bits', but Bono and Richard [Curtis] kept saying, do it again."

And having persuaded Tony Blair to hold the Commission for Africa, he was not going to allow a year's work to gather dust on a shelf. "It seemed to me we could do it again, not for charity but for political justice. We've never been wealthier, we've never been healthier. We know what it costs. Do it." He told the world leaders that they should not come unless they were willing to act.

And he warned all politicians that, at elections to come, they would be held accountable by those who had signed up to the campaign if they failed to act on the carefully costed programme identified by the Commission.

The precedent was the vast amount of aid America had poured into Europe after it was devastated by the Second World War, he said, which had paved the way for the prosperity enjoyed by countries such as Germany and France today.

Sir Bob was flanked at the press conference by supporters including Richard Curtis, the writer of films such as Notting Hill and a founder of Comic Relief, and Sir Elton John, who admitted he was "a self-obsessed drug addict" when he took part last time.

He said he was proud to get another chance to contribute. "If Bob Geldof asked me, I would go on a dangerous mission. He's an honourable man. He encouraged musicians to think about what they really should be doing, instead of just playing and driving around in flash cars."

In a special film shown at the launch, stars including Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Colin Firth and Liam Neeson also gave their support to the campaign to Make Poverty History.

A short history of Make Poverty History

The "Make Poverty History" campaign counts world leaders, Hollywood stars and rock's aristocracy among its supporters; it has sold three million wristbands and persuaded Bob Geldof to stage a second Live Aid concert - not bad for a campaign launched eight months ago.

Its approach reflects how much fundraising and campaigning have changed in the 20 years since an Ethiopian famine prompted the first Live Aid.

Make Poverty History is not asking for money from the public; instead it has focused on attracting support to influence world leaders. Its main demands are for debts owed by developing nations to be cancelled, richer governments to commit to spending at least 0.7 per cent of their gross national income to help poorer states, and for fundamental reform of trade rules.

A coalition of more than 400 charities, churches, trade unions and other groups, the campaign has its origins in the debt protests that ran alongside the 1998 G8 summit in Birmingham. Members began discussions in 2004 about how to use Britain's presidency of the EU and this year's G8 summit to highlight aid and trade problems.

It officially began in January and more than 20,000 people a day have been signing up on the website. Campaigners have asked the public to consider complex global economic issues, but harnessed this to celebrity endorsements.

The campaign will itself become history at the end of the year, but its influence could be as seismic as that of Live Aid 20 years ago.

Maxine Frith

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