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Live 8 concerts seek to change policies of leading countries

LONDON—Twenty years ago, Bob Geldof, then a member of the Boomtown Rats rock band, organized a pair of concerts known as Live Aid that raised $150 million for African charitable work and helped redefine rock stars from bad boys to charitable agents.

Saturday, Geldof is back, with a star-studded slate of concerts in 10 cities around the world. But raising money isn't the goal; changing the policy of the world's most powerful countries is.

"This is not Live Aid 2," Geldof has noted.

Timed to coincide with next week's meeting of the so-called Group of 8, a gathering of American, European and Asian leaders that begins Wednesday in Scotland, Live 8 is aimed at persuading them to cancel billions in African debt, increase aid to Africa by at least $50 billion and rewrite trade regulations to be more favorable to poor nations.

Organizers also hope to flood Scotland with protesters in the coming week, beginning with as many as 150,000 Saturday in Edinburgh, an hour's drive from Gleneagles, where the G-8 leaders, including President Bush, will meet.

"We need proper grown-up politics and people need to be serious," Geldof said at a recent news conference.

The concert venues were picked in G-8 countries to maximize political influence on the leaders: London, Philadelphia, Berlin, Moscow, Paris, Rome, Tokyo and Barrie, Canada, about 60 miles north of Toronto. Concerts also are set for Johannesburg, South Africa, and Edinburgh. The Edinburgh show will be Wednesday, as the summit begins.

More than 100 performers will appear, among them Madonna, P. Diddy and Elton John.

The motto this time is "We Don't Want Your Money—We Want You," and the concerts are free.

There's some nostalgia attached to Saturday's festivities. Paul McCartney is expected to kick off London's concert by singing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," which begins with the words "It was 20 years ago today." (In fact, it's about two weeks early for the 20th anniversary).

"This is not an issue of politics, it's an issue of morality," Geldof said recently. " I think it will have deep political resonance."

Kate Norgrove, a spokeswoman for the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, acknowledged that the concerts have done quickly what she and other have spent years trying to do: Draw attention to African debt relief and trade issues.

"Rock 'n' roll has upped the ante considerably," she said. "It's pushed from the background into the limelight, and we hope that it means we're entering a new phase in working for Africa, one where we're not struggling to find the money to get done what needs to be done."

The numbers that move the movement are a constant in newspapers and newscasts around Europe: 291 million Africans survive on less than $1 a day each, 30,000 children die every day because of poverty, 26 million Africans are HIV-positive.

Already, the pressure from the worldwide effort is given credit for helping to get the United States and Great Britain to agree to $40 billion—possibly rising to $55 billion—in debt relief for Africa and Latin America.

Still, not everyone is convinced that the concerts will have long-term impact.

"We wish them luck, but we've seen this before," said Onyekachi Wambu, the information officer for the London-based African Foundation for Development.

Wambu's organization has been criticized for planning a conference on African development that runs at the same time that an expected 200,000 people will be attending the Live 8 concert in London's Hyde Park, criticism that Wambu said showed how little was known about African aid programs.

"We hold this conference on creating jobs and wealth—the real answer to development—on the first Saturday of July every year," he said. "Someone who drops in on the issue wouldn't pay attention to that, I guess."

Tom Cargill, the Africa program coordinator for Chatham House, an English research group, offered similar sentiments.

"I do believe Africa will sort itself out, but it will do so in spite of what the rest of the world is doing," he said. "But these big-bang ideas on making poverty history all of a sudden are a bit optimistic."

African aid should be focused on creating jobs and a middle class, he said.

Of course, a recent London Mail on Sunday column noted that there certainly will be some who benefit from the Live 8 efforts.

"Once again, the hungry, terrorized children of Africa are pooling their efforts to help others," it began. "They will, once more, perform on our TV screens to help rescue the sagging reputations of that needy and deprived group of balding, clapped-out rock stars who long for the crowds that once listened to them."

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HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CONCERTS

Philadelphia—Where: The Museum of Art. Audience expected: 250,000. Artists: Black Eyed Peas, Dave Matthews Band, P. Diddy, Stevie Wonder.

London—Hyde Park. 200,000. U2, Coldplay, Madonna, Snoop Dogg, Elton John, Pink Floyd (reunion).

Barrie, Canada—Park Place. 150,000. Bare Naked Ladies, Deep Purple, Simple Plan, Run DMC.

Berlin—Tiergarten. 250,000. Brian Wilson, Die Toten Hosen, Crosby Stills & Nash.

Johannesburg—Newtown. 40,000. Malaika, Zola.

Moscow—Red Square. 50,000-200,000. Pet Shop Boys.

Paris—Palais de Versailles. 220,000. The Cure, Dido, Youssou N'Dour.

Rome—Circus Maximus. 250,000. Duran Duran, Tim McGraw.

Tokyo—Makuhari Messe Arena. 10,000. Bjork, McFly.

Edinburgh—Wednesday, as the G-8 summit begins, Murrayfield Stadium. Number expected is unknown. Annie Lennox, Bob Geldof, the Proclaimers.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): Live8 logo

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): LIVE8

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