The perils of mass protest

Bob Geldof's effort to raise awareness of global poverty is off to a rocky start as African artists decry Live 8's mosly white lineup.

By Sandra Leville
Published June 2, 2005 5:15PM (EDT)

Bob Geldof's call for a million people to march on Edinburgh, Scotland, on July 6 to protest the opening day of the G8 summit sparked criticism and concerns about public safety Wednesday. The singer also faced anger from African bands over the predominantly white lineup of artists he has chosen for Live 8, the five-country free rock concerts to be broadcast around the world four days before world leaders meet at Gleneagles in Scotland.

Only one African act -- Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour -- appears in the list of artists in London, Philadelphia, Berlin, Paris and Rome. Ian Ashbridge of Wrasse Records, which has several African artists, accused Geldof of being "deeply patronizing." "He talks about fair trade for Africa, but he's acting just like the West when it comes to choosing who will appear."

In his mission to make world leaders address the tragedy of Africa, Geldof has called for children to stay away from classes and employees to take a day off to travel to Edinburgh in the hundreds of thousands on the opening day of the summit. The demonstration will come four days after a Make Poverty History rally in the city, which has been months in the planning. It has come as a shock to the City Council, which knew nothing about Geldof's plans.

Some aid agencies within the Make Poverty History coalition are concerned that his impromptu demonstration lacks organization and could attract violent troublemakers. "There are concerns that it's not an organized event and therefore not something that the organizers are going to have any control over. And there are concerns that things could go wrong," a senior official in a leading aid agency told the Guardian.

Fears about safety increased Wednesday after Special Branch officers, who are working to ensure there will be no repeat of the riots in Genoa in 2001, said anarchists were planning to hijack the Geldof mass protest. Detectives who have been monitoring violent anticapitalist groups say the message is already being passed between activists.

Edinburgh City Council leaders will Thursday meet with representatives of Geldof and Midge Ure, who is helping to organize Live 8, to express their unhappiness that despite months of discussions they were kept in the dark about the mass protest on July 6.

While refusing to criticize Geldof directly, the assistant chief constable of Lothian and Borders police, Ian Dickinson, said: "We knew about the possibility of it and we advised strongly against it. It is physically impossible for 1 million people to come to Edinburgh."

Ure has called on people to head to Edinburgh as soon as Saturday's Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, London, ends, and has asked residents, churches and mosques in the city to offer them somewhere to stay -- raising the prospect of hundreds of thousands of people arriving in a city of 450,000 with no accommodations.

Donald Anderson, the leader of Edinburgh City Council, said the police and the council were having to go "back to the drawing board" with their plans.

Tim Steward, chairman of the Edinburgh branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, said Geldof and Ure should compensate businesses for the millions they would lose on the day. He said firms would "shut up shop" after hearing Geldof's comments. And teachers unions were concerned that Geldof was encouraging children to "bunk off" school. "There is no need for anyone to truant from school to attend," a spokesman for the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers said.

No one from Live 8 was available for comment.

Sandra Leville

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