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Thursday, September 23, 1999 Published at 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK


Pope backs pop stars over debt

The Pope was one of the first to make an issue of debt repayment

The Pope has lent his support to a delegation including singers Bono and Bob Geldof who met him to discuss ways of cancelling third world debt.

Pope John Paul II used the meeting with representatives of the Jubilee 2000 campaign - which wants to see debts cancelled to mark the new millennium - to urge world leaders to take action.

Bono: "This is for people earning less than a dollar a day"
The Pontiff said in a one-hour address: "The human person is the most precious resource of any nation or any economy.

"Poverty and gross inequalities remain widespread, despite enormous scientific progress. The Catholic Church looks at this situation with great concern.

"Debt relief is urgent. It is, in many ways, a precondition for the poorest countries to make progress in their fight against poverty. This is something which is now widely recognized, and credit is due to all those who have contributed to this change in direction.

"We have to ask, however, why progress in resolving the debt problem is still so slow. I appeal to all those involved, especially the most powerful nations, not to let this opportunity of the Jubilee Year pass, without taking a decisive step towards definitively resolving the debt crisis."

Geldof is already well-known for the Live Aid and Band Aid campaigns in the 1980s, and Bono told the BBC he was shocked that it seemed down to celebrities to bring the issue into the spotlight.

World Debt
"It's absurd it's up to pop stars to bring this sort of thing about," he said.

"At Live Aid, we thought raising $200m was amazing, but Africa pays that back in debt repayments every week."

After the meeting with the Pope, Geldof said: "Were the spirit of this frail old man mirrored in a practical way by our political leaders, then the final push of political will to eradicate this unnecessary tragedy, would be easily achieved."

Joining Geldof and Bono were music producer Quincy Jones and former United Nations under secretary-general Adebayo Adedji. The delegation will be led by Jubilee 2000 co-founder Ann Pettifor.

[ image: Bono: Will also play at the NetAid shows]
Bono: Will also play at the NetAid shows
The Pope was among the first to link the year 2000 to debt cancellation. In 1994, he said the turn of the millennium would be an appropriate time to "reduce substantially, if not cancelling outright" what he believes to be a threat to millions of people.

The campaign was inspired by Old Testament teachings which state that seven times seven years - a jubilee - debt should be erased and land should be returned.

Jubilee 2000 argues that debt is killing millions all over the world. It says money which needs to be spent on basic provisions including education and health care is often diverted into paying off huge loans handed out in the 1970s.

In the UK, Jubilee 2000 is backed by more than 90 organisations including the TUC, Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and Christian Aid. It has sister organisations in 50 other countries.

[ image: Bob Geldof: Founded Live Aid and Band Aid in the 1980s]
Bob Geldof: Founded Live Aid and Band Aid in the 1980s
It was launched at the Brit music industry awards in February, and has also organised a human chain along the River Thames in London.

In June world leaders at the G8 summit in Cologne agreed to a £60 billion package designed to help two-thirds of the world's poorest countries. But campaigners are demanding more action is taken.

The meeting with the Pope is not the only initiative the entertainment industry is undertaking to campaign against third world debt.

On 8 October, the three NetAid concerts in Geneva, New York and London's Wembley Stadium will raise money for refugees and anti-famine measures around the world, and organisers hope to make more people aware of the issues surrounding third world debt.

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