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Thompson drowned out at AIDS meet

By
ED SUSMAN, UPI Science News

BARCELONA, Spain, July 9 (UPI) -- Whistling, shouting and clapping activists Tuesday drowned out Tuesday's speech of U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson at the 14th International AIDS Conference.

About 50 to 100 demonstrators carrying signs denouncing U.S. AIDS policy demonstrated for nearly 30 minutes, although Thompson gamely recited his remarks in an auditorium at the conference.

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"He was going to tell lies and we shut him down," said Milano Mark of New York City from the activist group ActUp/New York.

The moment Thompson began his speech, demonstrators erupted with cries of "Shame, shame, shame." Some blew high-pitched whistles while others in the audience clapped and stamped their feet.

About 50 protesters marched in the aisles and to the edge of the stage where Thompson was standing. Security personnel blocked the demonstrators from reaching the stage and at no time was the secretary threatened, although the group held signs that blocked the audience's view of Thompson. The signs read: "Wanted Bush and Thompson for Murder and Neglect of PWAs (people with AIDS)" and "Where is the $10 billion?"

The latter sign was a reference to the $10-billion-per-year price tag health agencies have suggested is necessary to treat AIDS patients worldwide. The U.S. government's current commitment to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria -- which has raised a total of $2.8 billion thus far -- is about $500 million. That figure does not include a separate $500-million U.S. commitment to an initiative to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission.

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Mark, who used a loudspeaker to address the audience of several hundred people, accused the United States of not doing enough to help victims of AIDS and undermining efforts of developing nations to acquire cheap AIDS medications.

Thompson spoke for about five minutes and then stopped, allowing the demonstration to continue. After 15 minutes the demonstrators left the stage area and Thompson tried to continue, but at the sound of his first syllable the demonstrators returned. Thompson continued to read his speech through to completion, then left the stage through a rear curtain followed by about a dozen security personnel.

The demonstrators then filed out of the room, to the cheers of the audience, allowing the program to continue.

Afterwards, Thompson told reporters, "If we are ever going to get to $10 billion, we are not going to do it alone. We will continue to ante up as the time goes by as long as there are accountability and performance standards in the Global Fund."

He said if these conditions were met, "then as a representative of the United States I can promise you we will continue to increase our donations."

Asked about the demonstrators, Thompson said he knew he would face a "rough" time, but added, "I came here because I wanted to show that the Bush administration is committed to this fight. They can shout but that doesn't deter me or the president one bit."

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Further defending the administration's position, Thompson said, "We have a strong message. We are going to continue this despite the shouts, jeers and the insults."

Also Tuesday, demonstrators from an Italian AIDS activist group destroyed advertising signs and taped up protest posters at a drug company's booth in the conference's exhibition hall. Members of the Gruppo Italiano Trattamenti Antiretrovirali said they were attacking the drug company, Gilead Sciences Inc., of Foster City, Calif., to back demands for "ongoing consultation with HIV-positive people."

On Monday, AIDS activists disrupted the booth operated by Swiss pharmaceutical-maker Roche Holdings GA.

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