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MTV Generation Has Go at Blair on Climate Change, Africa's Poor

With activist-pop star Bob Geldof at his side, the British leader takes questions from young people and celebrities.

July 01, 2005|Sarah Price Brown | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — British Prime Minister Tony Blair took a seat beside Irish rock star Bob Geldof on Thursday to answer young people's questions about poverty in Africa and climate change in advance of a Group of 8 summit next week.

Sitting in front of flat-screen monitors flashing colorful graphics, Blair and Geldof fielded questions from celebrities and a studio audience of 49 youths from around the world during an hourlong session that will be aired on MTV at 5 p.m. PDT today.

The forum began with a videotaped question from American rap singer Snoop Dogg: "Excuse me, Mr. Prime Minister -- or President -- Tony Blair, I'd like to know who or what is the G-8?"

African poverty and global warming are expected to be high on the agenda when the meeting of leaders from the Group of 8, comprised of top industrialized nations, begins Wednesday in Gleneagles, Scotland. Blair appeared on the MTV program as part of his effort to reach out to youths before the meeting.

The Group of 8 consists of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.

Young people from 24 countries, including seven in Africa, along with celebrities in recorded appearances, peppered Blair and Geldof with questions.

Davinder Rai, 21, of India asked why the focus was on Africa instead of poor countries such as the South Asian giant.

"Africa is the only continent in the whole of the world in the last 30 years that has gone backward," Blair replied.

Do multinational companies doing business in Africa, especially those in the diamond industry, have a responsibility to help, asked U.S. hip-hop star Kanye West.

Companies doing business in Africa should be open about "what they're paying and to whom, so we make sure they are not paying money out in bribery and corruption," Blair said. He also urged corporations to take a more active role in the communities from which they draw resources.

Liz Cooke, 18, of Britain wanted to know how Blair would define success at the summit.

Blair said he hoped the other industrial leaders would agree to contribute $25 billion more in aid to Africa, adding that he would also seek help from the world's two most populous countries, China and India.

Beside Blair, who was clad in a suit and shiny red tie, sat Geldof, with his long hair, black outfit and silver necklace.

Geldof, who staged the Live Aid concerts 20 years ago, raising $140 million to fight famine in Africa, has organized a new series of so-called Live 8 concerts to raise awareness of poverty on that continent.

The concerts will take place Saturday in London, Philadelphia, Rome, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, Toronto and Johannesburg, South Africa. Geldof hopes that the events will persuade world leaders to increase aid to Africa, cancel its nations' debts and remove barriers to trade.

"We continue to watch the carnival of death every night on our television screens," Geldof told the crowd, "the better to indulge the pornography of poverty. Not my world. I don't want it."

Present in the audience was Sibuele Sibaca, 21, a South African who at age 16 lost both her parents to AIDS. Sibaca was skeptical about what Blair and other leaders would accomplish.

"I think politicians across the world are all talk," she said after the session. But the forum showed her that "young people are the same all across the world," concerned about the same problems.

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