Write off third world debt, stars tell Blair

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The Independent Online
ROCK STARS, international celebrities and record companies are launching a campaign to pressurise world leaders, including Tony Blair, into writing off debt owed by the world's poorest countries.

In what will be the biggest and most political music industry campaign since Live Aid in 1985, the rock and pop world will call on the United Nations to cancel "unpayable Third World debt" as a humanitarian gesture for the new millennium.

The campaign will be launched at the Brit Awards in London next week. Campaign logos and the slogan "Drop the Debt" will appear on CD covers over the next year. Artists who have signed the petition include David Bowie, Luciano Pavarotti, Prodigy, Annie Lennox, Catatonia, Oasis, Robbie Williams, Cornershop and Placebo. Keith Flint of Prodigy is having the words "Drop the Debt" tattooed on to his back.

A global campaign to cancel unpayable debt has been backed for some time by the pressure group Jubilee 2000. For more than a year representatives have been talking to music industry executives.

The music industry intends to stress the fact that Live Aid raised over pounds 100m. But more than that is returned by Africa every week in debt repayments. In 1996, Comic Relief in Britain raised pounds 26m in the world's biggest telethon. That, says Jubilee 2000, is what Africa pays out on debt in one day.

The petition to cancel debts that cannot be afforded for some countries - and all debts for the very poorest - will go to the next summit of world leaders. More than three million people worldwide have signed it. But the involvement of rock stars and Pavarotti and the planned campaign by the record companies has not been made public.

Marc Marot, managing director of Island Records UK, who has been involved in gathering support, said last night: "We can help to popularise what is rather an esoteric movement, so that this campaign hits the heartland of the country. That's why it's necessary to bring in those with influence in popular culture."

Jubilee 2000 says that approximately pounds 11bn may need to be cancelled. It would cost each taxpayer pounds 2 per year to cancel the debts owed directly to Britain from the world's poorest countries. The UN has estimated that if funds were diverted back into health and education from debt repayment, the lives of seven million children could be saved before 2000.