Tens of thousands of anti-poverty campaigners dressed in white formed a human chain around Scotland’s capital on Saturday, echoing the musical call of the Live 8 concerts that world’s wealthiest nations act to lift Africa out of misery.
The “Make Poverty History” march launched a week of demonstrations ahead of the Group of Eight summit to be held near Edinburgh next week, with protesters hoping to pressure President Bush and his G-8 colleagues to end the misery of millions in the developing world.
“We are citizens of the global village. We need help,” said Siphiwe Hlophe, 45, who traveled from the African nation of Swaziland to participate in the march. “The G-8 leaders must live up to their promises. They must be accountable.”
Waving banners, blowing whistles and clutching balloons, protesters clad in white – the symbol of the anti-poverty campaign – streamed through the cobbled streets of the Old Town, over the Royal Mile and through the commercial district, encircling Edinburgh Castle with a giant human bracelet.
Organizers said more than 200,000 people took part in the march, a figure backed up by estimates by Edinburgh city council. Unofficial police estimates put the figure at 120,000.
The march’s peaceful but powerful message came as hundreds of thousands gathered in 10 cities worldwide for a series of Live 8 concerts also aimed at pressuring the world’s most powerful leaders to alleviate African poverty at the Group of Eight summit next week.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair says the poverty in Africa is a “scar on the conscience on the world” and is pushing for concerted international action when leaders from the United States, Russia, France, Germany, Canada, Russia and Japan join him for a three-day summit starting Wednesday in nearby Gleneagles.
Treasury chief Gordon Brown praised the anti-poverty marches and concerts and he promised to step up efforts to help the world’s poor.
“You are standing up today for people who have no power of their own but need power, and we are on their side,” Brown said Saturday in a passionate speech to several hundred activists from the charity Christian Aid. “To tackle the greatest evil of our time, ours must now become the greatest moral crusade of our time.”
Brown, who has been a driving force behind Blair’s efforts to make aid to Africa a priority at next week’s summit of G-8 leaders, reiterated the government’s call for debt relief, free trade and boosting international aid.
“The needs that we must meet are urgent and we cannot wait,” said Brown, who is Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The atmosphere in Edinburgh was festive, with a percussion band from Ghana playing and some demonstrators wearing masks depicting the faces of G-8 leaders including Bush, Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We recognize our solidarity with the poor of the whole world,” said Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of Scotland’s Catholics, addressing a rally from a huge stage in Edinburgh’s lush Meadows park.
“We demand generosity and justice in our giving and politics,” added O’Brien, who also read out a message from Pope Benedict XVI, urging rich nations to bear the burden of reducing debt for the poor.
Eager to avoid a repeat of violence that marred demonstrations against the 2001 G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy, where an officer shot and killed a protester, police mounted a huge security operation.
Scores of shop windows were boarded up along the march route and officials had cleared away any debris that could be used as missiles. The Scottish Parliament and Holyrood House, Queen Elizabeth II’s official residence in Edinburgh, were ringed with steel barricades.
Police helicopters hovered overhead and officers in riot gear, some on horseback, were on standby.
About 150 anarchists and anti-globalization protesters dressed in black, many wearing hoods or covering their faces with bandanas, stood out against the sea of white encircling the city. Some pushed over a barricade and charged at a line of police, before running off down side streets. Police described the incident as a minor disturbance and said nobody had been arrested.