Overcrowding Concerns for July G8 Anti-Poverty Protests In Scotland

As the July G8 summit of political world leaders approaches in Scotland, Church leaders and police express concerns about overcrowding in Edinburgh.

As the G8 summit approaches in Scotland, some church leaders are concerned that the anti-poverty focus of the protests could be drowned out by security and overcrowding problems of the rallies. Calls have been made for one and even up to two million people to make their way to Edinburgh in early July.

The protests, which are focused on the July 6-8 summit, have drawn attention from various religious, social and entertainment groups, all asking that rich nations help decrease poverty and insure trade justice throughout the world. Some church and police officials have voiced fears that the numbers of protesters could be too much to handle.

"It would be fair to say that people are worried ... how do you respond? We have 100,000 people on Princes Street at the end of the Edinburgh Festival, and that seems scary. Multiply that by ten, and it's quite an enterprise," said Mark Goodman, a spokesman for the diocese of Edinburgh in the Scottish Episcopal Church, according to Church Times.

The Church of Scotland hopes that Christians focus on the issues at stake. The protests surrounding the G8 are "not about celebrities, or semantics, or arguments relating to Edinburgh's ability to house vast numbers of marchers," said Ret. Rev. David Lacy, moderator of the church's General Assembly.

He added, "We cannot allow ourselves or others to forget that people are dying because of poverty, and the well-planned, structured events that will take place on 2 July are designed to bring that tragedy into sharp focus, and demand quick and effective solutions."

The protests surrounding the G8 meeting of political leaders from the world's eight most powerful industrialized nations are both planned and impromptu events.

In the works for several months, a march on July 2 is being organized by the Make Poverty History campaign which expects at least 100,000 participants to make their way through the Scottish Capital dressed in white, eventually forming a white band around the center of the city, symbolizing the campaign's symbol. Hundreds of social service and Christian aid groups in addition to celebrities are contributing to the effort.

In a separate but related development earlier this month, Bob Geldof, the organizer of the successful 1985 Live Aid famine relief concert, called for 1 million to protest in Edinburgh on July 6, the day of the summit's start. Police officials have shown concern for the safety of protesters if such a number were to attend.

"Frankly, it is difficult to conceive how they could all get to this area in the first place and where they could assemble in safety," said Assistant Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders, Ian Dickinson, according to the Scotsman. "No one wants tragedy to distract world attention from the real aims of the campaigners."

Live Aid coworker Midge Ure, who is helping Geldof coordinate a "Live 8" series of concerts for Africa poverty relief on July 2, hoped that religious groups would help accommodate some of the many expected to go to Edinburgh.

"We want every church, chapel, synagogue, and mosque to open their doors and let them in," said Ure.

At a press conference in Glasgow, where religious groups were showing support for the Make Poverty History campaign, Ret. Rev. Martin Shaw, Bishop of Argyll and the Isles showed support for Geldof's call and hoped for many more would attend, according to the Scotsman.

"Let's have two million, that's my first thought," he said. "I just feel that moaning about a whole lot of people coming to Edinburgh when this is about making poverty history seems to me to be rather lacking in generosity," he said.

Later, at Glasgow Caledonian University outside the Church's General Synod, he said that the situation demanded that people "take risks like this," referring to the mass gathering.

In 2001, violent clashes between police and protesters marred the world leaders summit in Genoa, Italy.

However, Bishop Bruce Cameron, in the opening address to the Synod said that church leaders should face the challenge, and that doing otherwise would be an "affront" to the gospel.

"There may be many reasons for poverty - corrupt leaders, self-interest of the rich, the endless civil strife and war - but the fact children are dying every few seconds is an affront to a gospel that promises 'life in its fullness.'"

The G8 meetings will be taking place at the Gleneagles Hotel in the Perthshire, Scotland contryside, about 30 miles north of Edinburgh.

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