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Music, politics merge in Live 8 concerts across the globe

LONDON—The new era of celebrity diplomacy kicked up its volume Saturday, with rock concerts on four continents aimed at forcing world leaders to increase African aid, cancel existing debt and open up trade.

The concerts, the beginning first in Tokyo with the last of the day ending in Barrie, Canada, attracted more than a million in person, and a potential television audience of billions. The effort was called Live 8, a counterweight to the G-8 summit scheduled to begin Wednesday in Gleneagles, Scotland. The G-8 is a group of the world's eight most powerful leaders. At their meeting this week, they are scheduled to address African economic and global climate issues.

In addition to the concerts, almost a quarter million protesters marched in Edinburgh, the nearest large city to the summit site, calling for an end to poverty.

Summit participants, including President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, have already preliminarily agreed to cancel $40 billion of debt in the world's poorest nations, and to increase direct aid moving toward the $25 billion to $50 billion called for by Live 8 organizers.

Critics of the effort claim that it focuses too much on aid and too little on job creation in Africa, that it is too patriarchal and that too few Africans are involved in an effort aimed at helping Africa.

The focus Saturday, however, was on stage. The driving force behind the effort, Bob Geldof, formerly of the Boomtown Rats and the organizer 20 years ago of Live Aid—the concert that raised about $150 million for African aid, had billed this not as a fund-raiser, but a consciousness raiser.

In a tribute to the first effort, the London concert began with rock group U2 and former Beatle Paul McCartney singing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band," opening with the words, "It was 20 years ago today ... "

Before the London concert began in Hyde Park, as about 200,000 waited outside a quickly built stage framed by guitars with the body shaped like Africa and the necks twisted into figure eights, Geldof told reporters: "Everything that rock and roll is meant to be is happening now."

Later, during the performance, he would describe Saturday's concerts as part of the "long, long walk to justice."

Performers around the world mixed music with the political pleas, pop-star Madonna, in London, asked concertgoers, "Are you ready to start a revolution? Are you ready to change history?"

In Philadelphia, in a scene that was broadcast to concerts around the world, actor/singer Will Smith urged people around the world to snap their fingers at three-second intervals, noting that the pace represented the death rate for African children from poverty.

Not all of those on stage were artists, however.

In Johannesburg, former South African leader Nelson Mandela—in a message broadcast to other venues—called the worldwide event an "historic opportunity," for "a better future for all ... It is within your power to prevent a genocide against humanity."

And Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates noted in London, "If you show people the problems and you show them the solutions, they will be moved to act."

The G-8 includes the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Japan and Russia, and there was a concert in each nation.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in London to show support for Live 8, said that there was great value in turning the world's eyes toward the problems of global poverty.

"On behalf of the poor, the voiceless and the weak, I say thank you," he said.

Off stage, Bono, of the rock group U2, said that they weren't there to change the world, but to energize the audience to take up the cause.

"The rock stars and hip hop stars can't change anything," he said. "But the audience can. They can put the politicians who do something in and out of office."


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

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

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