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Tuesday, 11 April, 2000, 19:04 GMT 20:04 UK
Livingstone criticised over 'Hitler' comment
Independent London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone is at the centre of controversy after suggesting that the international financial system kills more people every year than Hitler during World War II.
The comments in a magazine interview angered representatives of Britain's Jewish community, while Mr Livingstone's political opponents seized on the remarks.
And the Brent East MP also came under attack for branding the government's drugs czar "a waste of money".
Mr Livingstone, thrown out of the Labour Party after standing against official candidate Frank Dobson, made the comments in magazine and radio interviews.
Asked about previous criticisms of the International Monetary Fund, Mr Livingstone told the NME music magazine: "The IMF and the World Bank are still appalling and now the World Trade Organisation too.
"All over the world people die unnecessarily because of the international financial system.
"Susan George, the economist not the actress, estimates that in any year since 1981 between 15 and 20 million people have died unnecessarily from the debt burden because Third World governments have to cut back on clean water and health programmes.
"Every year the international financial system kills more people than World War Two. But at least Hitler was mad, you know?"
A spokesman from the Board of Deputies of British Jews: "Ken Livingstone damns himself out of his own mouth. Personally I don't find his sense of humour particularly amusing, and it's actually quite offensive."
Mr Dobson said: "Ken Livingstone is going around trying to be all things to all audiences.
"In the City, Livingstone pretends to be a friend of business but then he makes comments like these."
Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Susan Kramer said: "For Ken Livingstone to describe capitalists as killers is ridiculous."
Tory candidate Steve Norris said the MP's "latest outburst" was "irresponsible, dangerous and will do nothing to assist either inward investment or encourage business leaders around the world to take London seriously".
A spokeswoman for the World Bank's London office said both the World Bank and IMF were major forces in the Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative, a programme launched four years ago aimed at writing off the bulk of the debts of the world's 40 poorest countries.
But as he arrived at a hustings meeting in London on Monday night, Mr Livingstone defended his comments and said the row was "manufactured".
He said it was "a fact" that the international finance system and third world debt kills more people a year than died in the Second World War, adding: "No one today has said it was not true. The Pope has also said it and that hardly puts me in very radical company."
Mr Livingstone's comments on drugs in a radio interview also caused controversy on Tuesday.
He said: "The context is I'm saying I don't take drugs, and I don't think anyone should take drugs, but I'm also saying I think the drugs czar is a waste of money.
"And it's rubbish to say that all drugs are the same, and that ecstasy, and heroin and cocaine are all the same, because it means kids don't believe you."
He said he was not in favour of legalising drugs like cannabis and ecstasy but decriminalising them and would never do anything to encourage drug use.
But drugs czar Keith Hellawell said: "Mr Livingstone, I presume, may be talking from a lack of in-depth knowledge of the wider spectrum of the government's anti-drugs policies.
"I would be extremely glad to go over with him, and anyone else, how effective they are in terms of education in schools, rehabilitation programmes and help to wean young people off drugs, through to the arrest and conviction of drug dealers and the redeployment of their seized assets in anti-drugs programmes."
Mr Livingstone later issued a statement saying his views on drugs had been misrepresented.
"I have never favoured legalising drugs," he said.
"The priority for the police and the criminal justice system must be to focus on stamping out the drug dealers rather than those who are their victims.
"I believe that drug pushers should be dealt with in the harshest possible way."
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