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U.K.: London Turns Into Fairground As Concertgoers Stream Into City

  • Jan Jun

Central London resembles a giant fairground. Tens of thousands of mostly young people have been streaming through the streets, all in one direction. They're descending on Hyde Park for today's Live 8 concert.

London, 2 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The concertgoers all seemed to be in good spirits, laughing and making jokes along the way, in anticipation of seeing some of music's greatest performers.

Twenty-four-year-old Geena was urged by her companions to show the white wrist band that she was wearing in support of the Make Poverty History campaign.

"I think it's important that we all know about what's going on. I don't think anybody really understood what the G-8 was about before all this and before knowing about Live 8. And I think it has made everybody far more aware than they were before," Geena said.

Twenty-four-year-old Ellen was part of the same group of women. They had all come into London by train from the county of Surrey.

"I am sure I am really going to enjoy myself. I am very excited to start seeing all the bands, and I think also it's amazing to be part of something so huge and so important. I don't know if it's about money this time, is it? It's more about pressure. But I hope it will certainly make a difference," Ellen said.

Some of the participants arrived from as far away as Ireland. Many slept on lawns next to the park. Some of the biggest names in popular music are due to perform, including Paul McCartney, Elton John, Madonna, Sting, Mick Jagger, Pink Floyd, and U2.

Graham, who is 21, from Basingstoke, said he came in anticipation of the atmosphere.

"I am not actually entirely sure who is playing, but I am probably going to see Razorlight and perhaps Madonna. So, yeah, it should be quite good, the atmosphere basically," Graham said. "That's what I'm going to go for. I think it might raise more awareness, considering the scale of things -- it's in eight different countries, and so many people are actually going to it. But I do have a feeling that most people aren't actually paying attention to that. They're just sort of watching the music. They don't actually know about the whole G-8 summit and all that."
"They ought to sort out the corruption before they can write off any debt."

London's railway stations were packed with concertgoers today. Many groups of people had traveled for hours on trains from all over the country to get to London. There were even additional trains on some routes.

Some of central London's streets have been closed to traffic, and as many as 34 bus lines have been diverted. All police leave has been canceled, and about 1,000 officers are on duty, as well as 2,000 special stewards, 5,000 park wardens, and hundreds of paramedics.

Thirty-two-year-old Sandra is a Londoner who lives close to Hyde Park. She does not have a ticket to the show. She said she just came to see the crowds and plans to watch the event on television:

"I'll be watching it on TV. I think it's a good thing. Although I am not sure if all the money will go to Africa, and whether it will really help. The problem is, I think, with some of the African countries. I think the government is taking the money instead of putting it into poverty. They're taking it themselves. So there is not really a control where the money is going," Sandra said.

Two large areas of Hyde Park have been fenced off for the concert. Entry into the concert area is possible only through four closely guarded gates. Police are warning those without tickets to stay away. More than 200,000 people are expected.

Some people are critical of the whole "Live 8" event. Jay Patel is a newsagent who works just around the corner from Hyde Park.

"They ought to sort out the corruption before they can write off any debt. We keep giving [African countries] aid. All it breeds is people dependent on DHSS [social security]. Whatever they're doing, I don't think they should have done this G-8 concert, because it does not mean anything. It's not like Live Aid, which was for famine in Ethiopia. It's a different thing," Jay said.

"Live 8" organizers were also criticized for not involving more African musicians. To put things right, an African music concert was quickly organized in Cornwall, in southwestern England.