Image: Make Poverty History march in Edinburgh.
Christopher Furlong  /  Getty Images
A huge "Make Poverty History" banner is hoisted above Edinburgh Castle as the city prepares for the anti-poverty protest march in Scotland's capital city, early on Saturday.
updated 7/2/2005 10:40:20 AM ET 2005-07-02T14:40:20

Tens of thousands of people clad in white marched through Scotland's medieval capital Saturday, demanding that the leaders of the world's richest nations act to better the lives of the poorest.

The "Make Poverty History" marchers said the world must no longer tolerate the extreme poverty that blights the lives of millions in Africa and elsewhere. They planned to form a huge human bracelet around Edinburgh later Saturday as part of the kickoff to a week of anti-poverty activism.

The marchers aimed a peaceful but powerful message at politicians gathering for the summit of the G8 group of rich countries at the nearby Gleneagles resort next week.

"We're not here to march for charity; we are here to march for justice," said Walden Bello, of the advocacy group Focus on the Global South.

Festive atmosphere
The atmosphere was festive, with an African percussion band playing and some demonstrators wearing masks depicting the faces of G8 leaders including U.S. President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Britain's two main Roman Catholic leaders headed the procession and Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of Scotland's Catholics, read a message from the Vatican. He said Pope Benedict XVI urged those in rich countries to bear the burden of reducing debt for the poor and call on their leaders to fight poverty.

"His Holiness prays for the participants in the rally and for the world leaders soon to gather at Gleneagles, that they may all play their part in ensuring a more just distribution of the world's good," said the message from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano. He conveyed the pope's "ardent hope that the scourge of global poverty may one day be consigned to history."

Before the march began, tens of thousands of good-spirited protesters turned the Meadows, Edinburgh's main park, into a sea of white, the anti-poverty movement's trademark color. Many held white balloons bearing the names of aid groups.

About 150 anarchists and anti-globalization protesters dressed in black joined them in the fields, many wearing hoods or covering their faces with bandanas. Some had T-shirts bearing the anarchist symbol of the letter "A" inside a circle; one had a placard that said "No nation, no order."

Huge security operation
Police and Edinburgh's merchants had feared anarchists might cause trouble at the march and mounted a huge security operation to head off any disorder. They were anxious to avoid a repeat of violence that marred demonstrations against the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, where an officer shot and killed a protester.

The demonstrators -- organizers expected more than 100,000 -- urged the G8 leaders to heed Blair's call to erase Africa's debt, pony up for a massive boost in aid and eliminate trade barriers that make it difficult for impoverished nations to sell their goods overseas.

Some carried banners bearing religious imagery such as crosses while others espoused a socialist viewpoint.

"Make Capitalism History," read one group's red T-shirts; "Make Bush History," said another. Many placards bore the messages "Drop the Debt" and "Trade Justice." "For Those Who Have No Voices," a homemade banner said.

Thandiwe Letsoalo, who traveled from Soweto, South Africa, for the march, lost two daughters to HIV-related illnesses and is caring for eight grandchildren and two unemployed sons on a small pension.

"The G8 leaders have to increase aid but ensure that the governments they are giving aid to are not corrupt so that the money can trickle down to the people," she warned.

Precautions taken
Police said they expected most of the marchers would be peaceful but took precautions. Scottish Parliament and Holyrood House, Queen Elizabeth II's official residence in Edinburgh, were ringed with steel barricades. About 2,000 officers were on duty.

Along Princes Street, the main commercial drag beneath towering Edinburgh Castle, storeowners had boarded up windows.

"Nobody should be under any illusions -- Scotland's criminal justice services are not a soft touch," Scottish Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson warned. "And anyone who steps out of line will be made to face the consequences."

Organizers expected about 150,000 people to march through the city's medieval old town and modern commercial district. The march coincides with the Live 8 concerts being staged around the world Saturday to pressure the leaders to act.

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