France will write off more than 40bn francs of debt owed by 28 of the world's poorest countries during 2000 and 2001. The move follows a promise to help out the world's poorest economies made at the G7 summit meeting held in Cologne in June. Britain has also announced that it will wipe the slate clean on the debts of 25 of the world's poorest countries, and called on other countries to follow its lead.

Chancellor Gordon Brown revealed the move as the Treasury confirmed it is now ready to forego 100% of bilateral debt with 25 of the world’s poorest countries. This follows discussions with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other major countries. The move will see the first four countries start to have their borrowings wiped out by the end of next month.

Gordon Brown said that the British Government was determined to put pressure on the international community to follow suit. The decision follows a similar move by the United States that is aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty in the developing nations. Mr Brown said that precautions would be taken to see that the money saved was used productively. The announcement was welcomed by charities and by campaigners for debt relief. Bob Geldorf, KBE, who has campaigned vigorously for such action, said that it would be remembered far longer than Britain's millennium celebrations.