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International Development Secretary Clare Short
"To have these levels of poverty is disgusting"
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Friday, 21 July, 2000, 17:17 GMT 18:17 UK
Blair debt plea fails
Tony Blair
Tony Blair with Japanese children ahead of summit
Little progress has been made on scrapping the debts of the world's poorest nations on the first day of the G7 summit, despite efforts by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The summit's decision not to bring forward any new initiative for debt relief and to focus instead on implementing the agreement forged last year to cancel $100bn of debt has angered campaigners.

The prime minister's official spokesman said Mr Blair, who led a summit meeting on the issue, was unhappy with the situation, adding that he "does feel that we could have made further progress".

During the meeting, held on the Japanese island of Okinawa, Mr Blair warned his fellow leaders from the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan that the public level of concern on the issue should not be ignored.

Tony Blair's met leaders on Okinawa
Mr Blair said he had personally received 150,000 postcards on the issue, as well as 100,000 e-mails.

Despite the Government's attempts to take a leading role in forging ahead with debt cancellation, campaigners say the UK could still do more.

Progress has been slow so far. Under the agreement reached at the Cologne summit last year 40 countries should have qualified for debt relief by the end of 2000, but on current trends only half will.

In addition government sources said only a third of the $100bn debt had been cancelled.

Forward movement is proving difficult as G7 debt relief requires the implementation of economic reforms, sometimes controversial within the countries asked to put them in place, as well as a commitment from them not to use the money to fund wars.

A spokeswoman for Jubilee 2000, Ann Pettifor, said: "The G7 claim they are speeding up the programme they agreed a year ago in Cologne. They are not speeding up, they are only catching up.

Clare Short
Clare Short: "Level of poverty disgusting"
"The G7 have spent $750m on this conference - that could have immunised 1.5m children and saved their lives, it could also be used to wipe off the debt of a whole nation: Gambia."

Discussions at the summit will continue until Sunday.

Money not the answer - Short

Addressing the charges raised by debt relief campaigners, cabinet minister Clare Short insisted that throwing money at the problem would not help to solve it.

The international development secretary told the BBC the problem was complicated by the fact that not all the governments of poor countries were governing in the best interests of their people.

She said better government was needed to enable debt relief and that many of the world's poorest countries were still involved in wars.

Ms Short said: "You cannot just throw money at a country which buys lots of arms and is perpetrating wars."

She added: "We have got plenty of money in the world and to have these levels of poverty alongside the plenty is disgusting and we ought to be determined to make systematically faster progress."

Conservative international development spokesman Gary Streeter said Ms Short had "spectacularly reneged on promises made at Cologne in 1999 that 75% of eligible heavily indebted poor countries will be on track for debt relief by the end of 2000".

He went on: "Only a few days ago Miss Short published new Comprehensive Spending Review targets on debt relief, claiming that they would build on targets set in Cologne.

"Today she admitted this will not happen. It's yet another New Labour pledge consigned to the growing scrapheap of broken promises."

Mr Streeter called on Ms Short to "urgently restate" what her debt relief targets now were.

Meeting with Putin

The prime minister will also hold a meeting on Friday with the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin.

The two leaders are expected to discuss the problems posed by international criminals trading in drugs and running money-laundering rackets.

They will also discuss the banning the sale of diamonds used to fuel civil wars in Africa and how Russia can dispose of its stockpile of plutonium and 40,000 chemical weapons.

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Find out more about the G8 summit in Okinawa

Key Stories:
On the agenda:
See also:

21 Jul 00 | World
G8 under fire over debt relief
20 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Okinawa: Island of resentment
20 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's 500m summit bill
19 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
G8 urged to honour debt promise
21 Jul 00 | Business
Debt shadow over G8 summit
21 Jul 00 | World
In pictures: G8 summit
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