02 July 2005

Edinburgh protesters form human chain


Simon Jeffery and Matthew Tempest
Saturday July 2, 2005

Tens of thousands of protesters today formed a human chain around Edinburgh city centre in a show of solidarity with the world's poorest people.

In one of Scotland's biggest ever demonstrations, around 120,000 - 20,000 more than predicted - arrived in the city for the Make Poverty History rally and march, aimed at putting pressure on G8 leaders meeting in Scotland next week.

Protesters, dressed in white, linked arms at 3pm and remained silent for one minute as the event reached its climax.

Trumpets and whistles competed with the sound of African drums as the march made its way past Edinburgh's historic university. Bystanders waved rainbow peace flags as the head of the procession made its way through the Old Town.

Socialists with red flags chanted "murder, war, poverty, hate, we say shut down G8" as the thousands made their way along the tree-lined avenue.

Police helicopters flew overhead to observe the protest, while shopkeepers and cafe workers recorded the momentous day using their mobile camera phones.

Among those at the head of the march was the Zimbabwean campaigner Amadou Kanoute.

"We are at the front here today, and that is the right place because Africa has to be put at the front," he said.

"It makes me feel so good to see the solidarity in the people here today."

As the marchers trooped through the city centre, the rally continued with its mix of public demonstration, political event and summer rock festival.

The comedian and actor Eddie Izzard, one of the comperes, said: "I'm appealing to politicians' egos. I'm saying to them: 'Leave a legacy'. We made slavery history - we can make poverty history."

Scotland's first minister, Jack McConnell, watched the march as it passed on to Princes Street. He said: "This is fantastic - it is a great carnival atmosphere and it is a message of hope".

Mr McConnell, who had earlier chaired a meeting of international parliamentarians to discuss debt, aid and trade, added: "We hope that the leaders of G8 countries are listening. I hope they will make decisions next week in Scotland of which we can be very proud."

Graham Reeve, who travelled from London, last marched on the million-plus February 2003 protest against the Iraq war.

Although he will be returning south tonight, he insisted his 24 hours in Edinburgh was the right thing to do. "I feel pretty strongly about the issues, and it's an easy way to make your voice heard," he said.

His companion, Ruth Pegler, agreed. "It's got to have some effect, do some good and make a difference," she said.

Edinburgh has been preparing for the march and other events in the run-up to the summit for months.

Despite reassurances from authorities that today's event would pass off peacefully, many shops were boarded up, but others displayed Make Poverty History posters in their windows.

A heavy police presence was in place at key locations including the Scottish parliament and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, both of which were protected by steel fencing.

Speakers at the rally include Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of Scotland's Roman Catholics, his English counterpart, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, and the Rev David Lacy, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

A message from Pope Benedict XVI will be read out.

"I'm showing solidarity with those people who feel so strongly about this that they have come up here," Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said. "My main hope is that the leaders of governments will listen to the people."

Cardinal O'Brien said: "I think it will make a difference. It will bring to the attention of world leaders the voice of the people."

Kumi Naidoo, from South Africa, who chairs the global Make Poverty History campaign, said the white wristband had been chosen as a symbol available for everyone to adopt.

Rural women in poor countries were using napkins as their symbol, he said. "We've got to keep the pressure going because, at the moment, a bureaucrat in the World Bank has more power than a finance minister in a developing country."

The Senegalese musician Baaba Maal, a UN ambassador and Aids campaigner, said: "It is very important for me, as a black African musician travelling the world, that there is this energy."

Hilary Benn, secretary of state for international development, also joined the march.

"A month ago we met with EU development ministers in Brussels and agreed to double aid to Africa by 2010," he said. "Two weeks ago, Gordon Brown negotiated a new debt cancellation that will deliver $55bn [£31bn] worth of debt relief to the poorest countries in the world.

"On Wednesday, Nigeria got the biggest single debt write-off that Africa has ever seen.

"I don't think any of this would have happened if it hadn't been for Britain putting Africa at the centre of the G8 and for the fact there is a growing body of people who want this changed."

Steve Tibbett, the head of policy at the charity ActionAid, said: "Perhaps 200,000 people are here to demand justice for the world's poor people.

"The strong feeling coming across is that people are not just here to have fun. They are actually angry and they want something done. They won't accept any more spin from the G8 leaders."

And the Filipino activist Walden Bello, the director of the thinktank Focus on the Global South, said: "When the leaders talk of wiping out $25bn of debt, remember they found $30bn for the Iraq war at the drop of a hat."

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