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Saturday, June 19, 1999 Published at 22:15 GMT 23:15 UK

World: Europe

Debt protesters petition G8

The protesters called for poor countries' debts to be cancelled

Tens of thousands of people from across Europe have formed a human chain around the venue of the G8 summit, calling for a cancellation of world debt.

World Debt
Leaders of the major industrial countries, meeting in the German city of Cologne, have been discussing the debt issue, as well as Russia's economy and the reconstruction of Kosovo.

Joining hands, and with flags and whistles, bands and banners saying simply "Cancel the debt" or "Drop the debt", the protesters called for the immediate cancellation of all debts owed by the world's poorest countries.

Peter Morgan speaks to the pop stars who joined the protest
They gradually spread themselves in a thin line around Cologne, snaking back and forth across bridges over the Rhine.

Irish rock singers Bob Geldof and Bono helped deliver a petition to the German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on behalf of the protesters.

Organisers say it had been signed by more than 17 million people.

Leaders at the meeting agreed on Friday to cut the debt burden by about $70bn in what President Clinton called a historic step to help the world's poorest countries achieve growth and independence.

But debt campaigners say this does not go far enough, and most poor countries will still pay more on servicing their debts than on health and education.

The BBC's Diplomatic Correspondent James Robbins says there is no doubt the political leaders were moved by the scale of feeling on the issue.

Russia hopes for better ties

As the summit began discussing aid to Russia on Saturday, Russia said it wanted to move forward in relations with the West.

Paul Reynolds: President Yeltsin looking forward to the meeting
Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin told President Clinton that Russia wanted to move beyond the disagreements over the war in Kosovo.

President Yeltsin is due to have a private meeting with President Clinton on Sunday, which correspondents say the Russian leader regards as crucial to future relations.

Mr Stepashin told the meeting that Russia is committed to meeting the latest IMF terms.

A senior American official said Kosovo had been impossible to ignore at the talks, but the United States too wanted to get back to business.

A bilateral commission on Russian-American relations headed by US Vice-President Al Gore and the former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, is to be reactivated.

New tension over Serbia

But another dispute between Russia and the West held up the release of a statement about Kosovo.

The United States reiterated Nato policy that Yugoslavia will get no international aid for reconstruction while President Slobodan Milosevic remains in power.

Russian officials insist that Yugoslavia should be included in aid plans, and say the issue will not be resolved until President Yeltsin arrives at the summit on Sunday.

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