02 July 2005

200,000 form Edinburgh human chain

Guardian

Simon Jeffery and Matthew Tempest in Edinburgh
Saturday July 2, 2005


The Make Poverty History march on Princes Street in Edinburgh. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA

Around 200,000 protesters today formed a human chain around Edinburgh city centre in a show of solidarity with the world's poorest people.

People came from around the world to attend the Make Poverty History rally and march, which is aimed at putting pressure on the G8 leaders meeting at Gleaneagles next week.

Organisers, police and Edinburgh city council agreed that 200,000 people had been at the event, making it one of Scotland's biggest ever demonstrations.

Most on the march wore white T-shirts, tennis shirts or jumpers and held hands in a human chain - a white band, the symbol of Make Poverty History - during a minute's silence , when the event reached its climax at 3pm.

At 4pm, people were still queueing to join the march, but had to wait because of the sheer number of people.

"It's like the welly queue at Glastonbury, times a hundred," explained Billy Bragg.

The singer, who performed at the rally, said: "In a year's time, if the G8 haven't delivered on aid, on trade, on debt, no one's going to blame Bob Geldof. No one's going to blame Mariah Carey. They're going to blame Blair and Brown and Bush.

"So give the government credit and support - they're talking the talk, we're all standing behind them, and we're going to judge them if they fail.

"They're standing up to Bush. And they're also standing up to Bush on behalf of the millions of Americans who disagree with their administration but can't do anything about it."

The demonstrators massed in Edinburgh's Meadows for a rally of music, video footage from Live 8 and speeches from celebrities and campaigners.

Many were first-time or infrequent demonstrators. 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.

Speakers at the rally included 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 was read out. "People from the world's richest countries should be prepared to accept the burden of debt reduction for heavily indebted poor countries and should urge their leaders to fulfil the pledges made to reduce world poverty, especially in Africa by the year 2015," said the pontiff.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said: "I'm showing solidarity with those people who feel so strongly about this that they have come up here. 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.

He said that rural women in poor countries were using napkins as their symbol, and added: "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."

The chancellor, Gordon Brown, spoke at a Christian Aid rally in Edinburgh tonight. He said the anti-poverty campaign had achieved more in the last months than "politicians working alone could have achieved in 100 years".

"First hundreds, then hundreds of thousands - from Edinburgh to Philadelphia, to Tokyo, Johannesburg, to Rome, Berlin, Paris and Moscow - marching today for justice for people without the strength to march on their own."

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

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 discussing 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."

Socialists with red flags chanted: "Murder, war, poverty, hate! We say shut down G8!" Police helicopters flew overhead to observe the protest, while shopkeepers and cafe workers the momentous day using mobile camera phones.

A heavy police presence was in place at the Scottish parliament and the palace of Holyrood House, both of which were protected by steel fencing.

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.

Edinburgh had prepared for months for today's march and events in the run-up to the G8 summit. Despite assurances from authorities that today's event would pass off peacefully, many shops were boarded up. Others displayed Make Poverty History posters in their windows.

Lothian and Borders police mounted a huge security operation, but fears of violence proved unfounded and officers said the day was largely trouble-free.

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".

Hilary Benn, the secretary of state for international development, 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."

Filipino activist Walden Bello, 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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