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Thousands March for Climate Action in Durban

Demonstrators march outside the U.N. climate conference in Durban, South Africa, December 3, 2011.
Demonstrators march outside the U.N. climate conference in Durban, South Africa, December 3, 2011.

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Activists, rights groups and citizens from around the world took to the streets of Durban Saturday to urge government negotiators at the U.N. climate change conference to take their demands seriously.

In a peaceful show of force, thousands of people marched through the streets of Durban toward the downtown conference center where delegates from nearly 200 nations are debating efforts to combat climate change.

The diverse crowd - representing groups from all across Africa, the United States and Latin America - were all united in their disappointment so far in the U.N. negotiations.

Sanele and Shepherd are two high school students from just outside Durban.

"What we are demanding? We are demanding for COP 17 to stop," said Sanele.

"Must end," said Shepherd.

"Must end actually, yes," Sanele echoed.

"It's been many years speaking about climate change, it's been 17 years now," said Shepherd.

"There must be a solution," said Sanele.

COP-17, as it is known, is the 17th Conference of Parties - an annual meeting of world governments and interested parties aimed at forging large-scale agreements to tackle climate change.

But at the march in Durban the Conference of Parties was known by another name: the "Conference of Polluters."

Nigerian environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey addressed the crowd outside the gates of the Durban convention center.

"We don't want Africa to be cooked, we don't want Africa to be roasted, we don't want Africa to be boiled, we demand, we the people of Africa, demand that our leaders should hear us," said Bassey.

Bassey also demanded that negotiators agree to a new legally-binding mandate to cut carbon dioxide emissions, blamed for global warming.

Governments at COP17 are considering a second commitment period to the Kyoto protocol - the current legal mandate in place to curb carbon emissions.  

While the European Union is strongly in favor of the move, other countries that were part of Kyoto, including Canada, Russia and Japan are losing interest.  The United States has said it will not accept any legally-binding mandate.

Demonstrators handed a letter over to the South African president of COP17, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and the U.N. executive secretary of the conference, Christina Figueres.

Figueres thanked the crowd for their enthusiasm.

"I'm well aware that it's not just you that it's millions around the world.  Minister Mashabane and I are working to push governments in that direction.  We are working tirelessly.  I want you to know they were working until four o'clock this morning and we will continue to work," said Figueres.

Negotiations will continue over the weekend on several key issues including the second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol and the establishment of a Green Climate Fund to help developing nations.

Expectations for a major climate deal have been low, while the call for action has been as loud as ever.

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