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'If you are straight, you have nothing to fear from Aids'

July 11, 2003

MAPUTO - Libyan leader Moammer Gadaffi told African heads of state at the closing of an African Union (AU) summit in Maputo that Aids was a "peaceful virus".

"Aids, Aids, Aids. We hear about nothing else. This is terrorism. This is psychological warfare. Aids is a peaceful virus.”

“If you stay clean there is no problem," Gadaffi said in an impromptu 45-minute speech -- which was supposed to have been a short and sweet thank-you address at the end of the summit.

Gadaffi also told the closing session of the second annual African Union conference on Saturday that Africans who are "straight" need not fear the Aids virus.

Speaking through a translator, Gadaffi drew some laughter with his reference to Aids only affecting homosexuals.

He said Aids was being used by business "as trade to build up their wealth." "Don't try to use Aids as trade. All you have to do is observe the rules. If you are straight, you have nothing to fear from Aids," he said.

Gadaffi's address sounded a discordant note with a trial underway in Libya in which six Bulgarians -- five nurses and one doctor -- and a Palestinian doctor are accused of spreading an Aids epidemic in the country.

The defendants worked at a hospital in Benghazi, east of Tripoli, when they were arrested in 1998 on charges of infecting 393 Libyan children with the HIV virus that causes Aids, through tainted blood products.

The case was thrown out for lack of evidence when it first went to a special court in 2002, but the prosecution refiled the charges and Benghazi judicial authorities decided in August to reopen the case before a criminal court.

The trial was adjourned shortly after opening and only resumed on Tuesday when it was promptly suspended indefinitely yet again.

The medics have been in prison for almost three years. They face the death sentence if found guilty. The seven have denied all the charges against them, while the two nurses and the Palestinian doctor have said in court that confessions they made to police were made under duress.
But the case did not seem to bother Gadaffi, who told the African Union summit that Aids and malaria were "God's forces defending Africa" from recolonisation. "Malaria is not dangerous except when someone infected is bitten and this is passed on. The mosquito is not a dangerous insect in itself. They are frightening us with these things," he said.

Gadaffi added that they should also not "worry about tsetse flies and mosquitoes," which he said were "God's armies" which would protect Africa.

Dressed in an orange, green and red shirt and hooded robe, Gadaffi also took a swipe at the First World assisting Africa in its development.

"They are laughing at us and pretending to be sorting out our problems.

"We are not pupils. We are not children. They say we were not civilised and we did not know God. This is not true. It proves their ignorance.

"There were civilisations in Africa 3 000 years before Christ," he said.

Malaria is the main cause of death in children under five in Africa. There are 42-million people living with HIV/Aids throughout the world, of which 29,4-million are in sub-Saharan Africa. - Sapa-AFP, Sapa-AP

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