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Tuesday, February 16, 1999 Published at 18:14 GMT


Stars campaign to end debt

Robbie Williams is behind the drive

The plight of the world's poor has again found a platform in the world of pop.

The Brit Awards
On Tuesday night, showbiz personalities attending the Brit Awards are due to put their weight behind an ambitious campaign to strike out Third World debt.

Stars - many of whom were involved in 1985's Live Aid - have either signed a petition or plan to wear "broken link" campaign badges.

But unlike Live Aid, the Drop the Debt project - organised by worldwide pressure group Jubilee 2000 - does not focus on fund-raising.

[ image: Making his mark: Keith Flint is set to unveil his tattoo]
Making his mark: Keith Flint is set to unveil his tattoo
Members of the British coalition say they will hold the government to its internationally-made promises to halve world poverty - or "harass and humiliate it for its failures".

The group says Live Aid raised $200m for Africa - but points out that the same amount is returned every week by the continent in debt repayments.

"If debt was cancelled now for 20 of the poorest counties, the money saved for basic health care could save the lives of about seven million children before 2000," said a group spokesman.

[ image: Muhammad Ali: Flying in for the event]
Muhammad Ali: Flying in for the event
Jubilee 2000 in Britain is a coalition of aid organisations, trades unions and churches. Approximately 50 countries across the world have similar schemes.

Its aim is to persuade the world's leaders - with petitions signed by millions of the world's citizens - to cancel out debts accrued by developing countries over the past three decades.

The idea comes from Old Testament teaching, that every 50 years, debt is wiped out.

Spokeswoman Angela Travis said: "Leviticus chapter 25 says that every seven times seven years - a jubilee - debt should be erased and land should be returned.

"Contained there in the Bible is the idea that the world does from time to time become unbalanced, but that there should be a mechanism for redressing that situation.

[ image: Back in 1985, Live Aid raised $200m for Africa]
Back in 1985, Live Aid raised $200m for Africa
"We, and several million people around the world, feel that the time for the Jubilee has come."

Campaigners argue that debt is killing millions all over the world. They say that money which needs to be spent on basic provisions including education and health care are often diverted into paying off huge loans handed out in the 70s.

Andrew Simms, of Christian Aid, said: "Cancelling the debt is realistically the cheapest form of debt relief.

"It is cheaper than aid giving - and represents little more than what Japanese businessmen spend in a year - or what the world spends on hair care products every year."

He said that the platform being given to Jubilee 2000 at the Brits would greatly help raise the profile of the Third World debt crisis.

"There is a groundswell of public opinion that keeping people in the developing countries in a prison of poverty is just not acceptible.

"It is not acceptable that every child should not have access to a school, or to medical care - especially when there is something that could be done to relieve the situation.

"There are already hundreds of thousands of people involved in this campaign, and as more people learn about it, the pressure on the powers that be to take positive steps will increase."

A statement from the group says: "Whoever is to blame for the huge build-up of debt, the only people who suffer as a result are the poorest people in the world."

"Some of the money got spent badly, some was wasted, some went into the pockets of dictators. Some went straght back to the West through corrupt lending. Some simply acted as a subsidy to Western companies.

"Very little of it actually helped ordinary people. But it is those ordinary people who suffer now because of the debt," it adds.

[ image: Jubilee 2000 says the lives of thousands of children could be saved]
Jubilee 2000 says the lives of thousands of children could be saved
It is hoped if all Third World debt is wiped out, at a cost of about 11bn, Third World countries will become financially more self-sufficient.

Jubilee 2000 points to parallels in history where vast debit columns have been wiped off countries' slates in the interests of humanity and world stability.

Germany, it says, received massive debt relief in the wake of WWII because the Allies realised it made sense - rebuilding a stable Germany meant peace and stability in Europe.

Grassroots action in support of the campaign has included a giant human chain formed around the G8 summit in Birmingham in August last year.

And on March 7, protesters will begin to count down the 300 days until the turn of the millennium with a series of events - including a candlelit vigil in London's St Paul's Cathedral.

[ image: The world's leaders at G8 in Birmingham]
The world's leaders at G8 in Birmingham
In August this year, Jubilee 2000 hopes to hand over 22 million signiatures to leaders at the G8 summit.

Director of Jubilee 2000 Ann Pettifor said: "Debt cancellation is essential if we are to give impoverished countries a fresh start in the new millennium.

"The financiers and politicians cannot do this alone. Ordinary people in the West, but also in indebted countries, must work together to resolve the problems of debt and poverty."

"Together with the music industry we can do this."

Christian Aid's Andrew Simms added: "We have already made progress. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have already made a U-turn on their stance of non-cancellation of debt.

"And I believe that we will continue to make progress."

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