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New York festival urges aid, equality amid security panic

The music and political worlds joined together Saturday to press for development aid, gender equality and voter participation, with a festival in New York's Central Park marred by a security scare.

An unofficial closing event following a week of hectic diplomacy at the UN General Assembly, the Global Citizen festival hands out free tickets to fans who pledge to take actions such as petitioning their governments to support efforts to end the most extreme global poverty.

Halfway through an evening headlined by The Weeknd and Janet Jackson, panic erupted as fans shouted, "Gunshots!" after hearing what was later revealed to be a falling barricade.

Hundreds of spectators raced to leave, trampling over one another as they tried to squeeze through fences. Many lost their shoes and bags and some, including at least one child, were briefly separated from their companions, AFP journalists at the scene said.

"We were trying to tell people to get up, get up, because we were crushing people under us," said Paris Anthony, one of the fans.

Fifteen people were hurt but all injuries were minor, a police spokesman said.

As Coldplay frontman Chris Martin took the microphone to encourage calm, numerous fans were in tears and others left entirely, with the audience notably thinner when the music resumed.

The scare came almost one year to the day after a massacre of 58 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas.

- Encouraging voting -
In its seventh year at Central Park, Global Citizen -- like this year's General Assembly -- paid tribute to

anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, who would have turned 100 in 2018.

Global Citizen plans a major festival dedicated to Mandela and his anti-poverty vision on December 2 in Johannesburg headlined by Beyonce and Jay-Z.

While primarily focused on the developing world, the latest Central Park festival also zeroed in on the United States -- encouraging voters to turn out for November 6 midterm elections, in which President Donald Trump's Republican Party risks losing control of Congress.

Cardi B, the fast-rising rapper who was performing her first concert since giving birth in June, urged young people to pay attention.

"Last election, everybody took it as a joke -- even me, I'm not gonna front. Because I thought, man, that person ain't gonna win. And look where we're at," the 25-year-old Bronx native said in reference to Trump.

Also rallying voters were screen legend Robert De Niro and, through a video message, former first lady Michelle Obama.

"Voting is how we tell our government what we want, and what we don't want. Put it another way -- voting is how we hire and we fire our leaders!" De Niro said.

In an unexpectedly timely appearance, US senators Jeff Flake and Chris Coons jointly addressed the festival to pledge bipartisan cooperation to preserve foreign assistance -- which Trump wants to cut drastically.

Flake, a centrist Republican, a day earlier triggered a vote delay and FBI probe over sexual misconduct allegations against Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

The senator was visibly moved after women confronted him in an elevator and demanded he pay attention to their experiences with sexual assault.

Flake was greeted at Global Citizen with cheers followed by a crowd chant of, "He's the one who has the vote." A smiling Flake said: "Feel free to join me in an elevator anytime."

- Pledges from Ireland, Norway -

Officials attending Global Citizen put a priority on promoting equality for women and girls -- seen as a critical front in the battle to eradicate extreme poverty.

Norway said it would contribute a much-needed $360 million to the Global Financing Facility, a World Bank-backed fund to support maternal and children's health.

"Let's call on the governments of the world to join us. Let's call on them to beat us," said Nikolai Astrup, Norway's Minister for International Development.

Ireland's deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, announced that his country by 2030 would join the small club of nations to meet the UN goal of spending 0.7 percent of gross national income on foreign assistance.

Coveney said Ireland would spend at least 250 million euros ($290 million) in the next five years on global education with a focus on easing the gender gap.

Janet Jackson -- playing a politically charged set that opened with her anti-racism song "The Skin Game" and included simulated domestic violence -- told the crowd that she herself was well aware of physical and other abuse.

"I am sick, I am repulsed, I am infuriated by the double standards that continue to treat women as second-class citizens," Jackson said to applause.
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