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AIDS activists arrested at stock exchange

NEW YORK -- Seven people protesting the high cost of the AIDS drug AZT chained themselves Thursday to a railing at the New York Stock Exchange, but were quickly removed and arrested, officials said.

'Sell Wellcome!' the demonstrators chanted, referring to Burroughs Wellcome PLC, the sole manufacturer of AZT, the only drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration for fighting AIDS.

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The demonstration, sponsored by the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, known as ACT-UP, began about 9:30 a.m. when seven people dressed as floor traders slipped past the usually tight security with counterfeit Bear Stearns identification.

The seven men -- three of whom have AIDS and are taking AZT, including a former Wall Street bond trader -- handcuffed themselves to a small balcony, unfurled a banner which said, 'Sell Wellcome,' and sounded air horns.

They were unchained and removed from the exchange and handed over to police.

The protest startled several normally unflappable traders, and while it failed to halt action the trading floor, some were clearly shaken.

'Everybody's a little shocked because of the fact that, how could these people even get on the floor?' said trader Dave Rego. 'I think people would supprt what they're doing, but not the way they did it.'

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The protesters also carried signs, including one that said, 'AIDS is big business, but who is making a killing?'

ACT-UP issued a statement saying rhe Food and Drug Administration, as a result of recent studies, will approve AZT for use by hudnreds of thousands of people who are infected with the AIDS virus but have not been diagnosed as suffering from the disease.

In anticipation of AZT reaching annual sales of over $1 billion, Wall Street has bid up Wellcome's stock by over 35 percent, the statement said.

The company received federal aid during the development of the drug and the activists charged Burroughs Wellcome with profiteering off the AIDS crisis. A years supply of the drug costs $8,000.

The protest did not disrupt the functioning of the exchange, said spokeswoman Sharon Gamsin, who noted that Burroughs Wellcome is not an NYSE-listed company. 'It was it very quick, it was over quick,' she said.

'They were removed by our security guards and they have been turned over the New York City police,' Gamsin said.

The seven were arrested and charged with criminal trespass, said Sgt. Diane Kubler, a police spokeswoman, who added that the activists were taken to the Seventh Precinct where they would probably be issued desk appearance tickets.

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