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First global telethon targets hunger

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization launched the first global telethon Sunday to appeal for cash to help make food for all a reality.

The nine-hour event, dubbed "TeleFood" and beamed live to 60 countries, featured music, sports and pleas for aid from stars of sports and entertainment, including Brazilian soccer ace Ronaldo and British Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons.The highlight of the event was to be a gala concert at the Vatican Sunday night with a international cast led by Spanish opera star Jose Carreras and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.

"Having enough to eat is the most basic of human rights," FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said in a statement launching the appeal to help the world's more than 800 million hungry.

"The fight against hunger is not an issue of charity, it is an issue of justice. Through TeleFood, we are looking for global solidarity and support in that fight," he said.

"It is not just a matter of feeding the hungry," spy thriller writer John Le Carre said in a recorded address.

"It is a matter of restraining our own insatiable greed. . . . (World hunger) is the direct consequence of our individual, national and corporate determination to provide more for those who already have too much."

Milan's star striker Ronaldo, whose rags-to-riches story has made him one of the highest-paid soccer players in the world, comes from a country where even lawmakers say up to 30 million still live in poverty.

"Tonight 200 million kids around the world will go to bed hungry," he said in his appeal. "If we all get together, hunger can be beaten."

FAO organized TeleFood to coincide with last Thursday's World Food Day and follow up on last year's food summit, where 186 countries signed a pledge to cut the number of hungry and malnourished people by more than half by the year 2015.

FAO has not set a target for how much it wants to raise, but Diouf said every dollar would go to provide practical support to rural people in developing countries.

Much of the aid will be channeled through FAO's Special Program for Food Security (SPFS), which aims to help farmers increase their food production and boost their overall incomes.

The program gained its 21st member Sunday when Ecuador's President Fabian Alarcon signed an agreement with Diouf to launch two SPFS projects in his country.

More than 100 celebrities from the arts, sport and politics have signed an Appeal against World Hunger urging the rich to reach for their wallets.

"We must rid ourselves of the most horrible affliction which confronts humanity today - indifference," Italian 1950s screen siren Gina Lollobrigida said in her appeal.