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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 September 2006, 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK
Ronan and Rowan unite to fight poverty
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It is hard to imagine too many things that would unite the worldwide leader of the Anglican Church and the manager of the world's most successful boy band.

But on Thursday, Rowan Williams and Ronan Keating were rubbing shoulders at a rally in south London.

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the former leader of Boyzone - and current manager of Westlife - were among thousands marching to the Treasury to protest over UK government funding to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Dr Williams was refusing to give interviews - but most of the media glare was reserved for Ronan.

UK money withheld

As a Christian Aid trade justice ambassador the pop singer and impresario has travelled to Ghana, where the World Bank's demand for a ban on tariffs and subsidies for the poultry market has led to an influx of cheap European imports and seen many thousands lose livelihoods.

He told BBC News: "I met with tomato farmers, chicken farmers, rice farmers and saw first-hand the effects of free trade - and how bad it is.

Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Rowan Williams (right) was keeping a low profile

"Because of the IMF and the World Bank, the government in Ghana - like governments in many developing countries - is not allowed to help its farmers with subsidies and has to drop tariffs on imported produce coming in to the country.

"So their tomatoes and chickens are far more expensive than the frozen chickens and tinned tomatoes that come in from other countries."

Earlier on Thursday, International Development Secretary Hilary Benn announced the UK was withholding 50m it had pledged to the World Bank in protest over the bank forcing developing countries to liberalise their markets before giving them aid.

Keating told BBC News the announcement was "fantastic" and proved the pressure being put on the UK government by campaigners like Christian Aid was having an effect.

He added: "It is a start and an acknowledgement that what we are doing is working - but it is only the beginning and we need them to do more."


Another of the celebrities at the protest, former Casualty actress Adjoa Andoh, has also been to Ghana recently - but for her the trip was personal.

"My father is from Ghana, I have family there," she told BBC News.

Protesters went through the looking glass at the Mad Bankers' Tea Party
Protesters went through the looking glass at the Mad Bankers' Tea Party

"So the interests of developing countries are close to my heart.

"I see the effects of IMF and World Bank policies on the ground when I am in Ghana and that is pretty strong motivation.

"Why are we giving our money to them so they can tell people in Ghana they are no longer able to produce their own crops but have to compete against multinationals?"

Another of the protesters, Samuel Taylor, 61, was born in Ghana but came to Britain as a business student in 1963 and stayed to work for London Transport in Manor Park.

Mr Taylor, who returns regularly to Ghana, told BBC News he had seen it change since he left as imported foreign goods meant local farmers could no longer sell their produce at market and were going out of business.

Despite the obvious passion on display, the protest remained good natured with demonstrators of all ages donning fancy dress and beating out a common rhythm on drums of all sizes.

There was even room for some party games at the Mad Bankers' Tea Party, where the few police officers on duty took tea with the White Rabbit.

Police officers take cakes from the White Rabbit
Police officers took cakes from the White Rabbit

Husband and wife Carol and Eric Austen came from Dorchester in Dorset to join the protest because they believe "trade justice" is the biggest issue confronting the world today.

The IMF and World Bank were placing "unfair restrictions on poorer countries for the benefit of the richer countries", Mr Austen, 67, said.

"Big business wants to maintain its own status and does not think about the damage being done to the poorer parts of the world."

Another of the sizeable retired contingent at the protest, Mavis McManus, 72, had come from Wolverhampton to demonstrate on behalf of the "ordinary people" in the developing nations who "have to work long hours but are not getting the proper return for the work they put in".

At the other end of the age spectrum, Christopher Rogers, 10, from Poole in Dorset, one of many schoolchildren at the protest, was also concerned for people from the poorer parts of the world.

"I do not think people should live in pain and suffer when we have everything we really need," he said.

"People are not sharing properly - we have millions of pounds here and we are not sharing it out throughout the world."

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