GLENEAGLES, Scotland: The leaders of the world's most powerful nations came under renewed pressure yesterday to take concrete action against poverty in Africa, but a senior EU official warned that a proposed doubling in annual aid was unlikely.
A spirited campaign by British Prime Minister Tony Blair to prick the conscience of the world on the plight of Africa was coming to a head as he prepared to host a gathering of counterparts from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.
"This is where it (poverty) stops," insisted rock star turned anti-poverty activist Bob Geldof at a joint Press conference in Gleneagles with Blair and fellow rock star Bono. Geldof, who was nominated yesterday for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work to help poor nations by a Norwegian member of parliament, over the weekend organised a global rock concert spanning nine countries to spur the Group of Eight into action this week.
If the summit ended with no agreement on a substantial increase in aid, "it would be a terrible failure and three billion people are urging you to take it all the way, to the last minute, to the last second of the last minute," he said.
A British government spokesman meanwhile said the Group of Eight during pre-summit consultations had come "close" to an agreement to double annual development aid to Africa to $50 billion by 2010.
That goal is the centerpiece in a sweeping "Marshall Plan" put forward by Blair and his finance minister Gordon Brown that also calls for debt cancellation and opening markets in industrialised nations to African agricultural goods.
But the head of the European Union's executive commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, cast doubt on the likelihood that an agreement for such an aid increase would emerge here.
As heads of the G8 nations began arriving at this posh resort for three days of discussions, some 400 protesters frustrated with being allowed no more than 500 metres from the fortified Gleneagles golf resort, tore off from an authorised 5,000-strong anti-G8 march into a lush field of barley.
First a few, then many dashed through the field belonging to Easthill Farms, making a break for the eight kilometre steel wire fence specially erected around Gleneagles for the summit.
No doubt to their astonishment, they tore down a 20-foot section of the fence. Then about 30 protesters briefly breached the barrier meant to guard eight of the world's most powerful men.
Riot police with batons and shields clashed with the protesters though no tear gas was fired. But some protesters were injured by police batons.
Elsewhere, more than 10,000 demonstrators shouting anti-American slogans gathered yesterday outside the US Embassy in Copenhagen to protest a visit by President George W Bush.
World leaders faced pressure from the US to scale back goals for relieving African poverty and combatting disease on the world's poorest continent. But Blair said yesterday he planned to keep campaigning for his ambitious objectives with other world leaders.
When asked about reports that Britain is preparing to scale back its demands on support for Africa and climate change in the face of US opposition, Blair said he is "prepared to hold out for what is right".
He also said that he believed that there was an increasing consensus over the problem of global warming.
Bush contends his administration has already done a lot to boost support for Africa and worries that too much aid in a short period of time would end up being wasted.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan yesterday warned G8 leaders that Africa needs more than just a doubling of aid to save it from a deadly poverty trap.
Annan also pressed the case for ending agricultural subsidies in rich countries.
Africa's poorest nations have a real chance for a prosperous future now that the world has turned an unprecedented focus on fixing their problems, World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz said yesterday.
Rock stars, who staged a final "Live 8" concert in Edinburgh, and Africa campaigners made a last plea to leaders of the world's industrialised nations yesterday to boost aid, cancel debt and remove trade barriers.