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Bush urges aggressive AIDS fight

President Bush on Wednesday brought the promise of more money for fighting AIDS to South Africa, which has been slow to attack the disease, and he pressed President Thabo Mbeki to deal with the epidemic more effectively.

On the second day of his five-day trip to Africa, Bush urged the South African leader, who has expressed doubt in the past about the link between HIV and AIDS and raised questions about the effectiveness of the drug treatment that has become standard, to come up with a plan that includes both the drug regimen and prevention efforts.

AIDS was one of two issues in which the two presidents stepped gingerly around each other during a morning of meetings. The other was the future of Zimbabwe, which is becoming unstable under its longtime president, Robert Mugabe.

South Africa has 4.7-million people with HIV, one of the largest infected populations in the world, but Mbeki's government has not yet made life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs widely available. Advocacy groups have long demanded that Mbeki drop what they consider to be his incomprehensible reluctance to deal aggressively with the problem.

White House officials downplayed the differences between Bush and Mbeki on AIDS. But they made clear that the United States would use the leverage of its offer to include South Africa in the first round of countries to benefit from the $15-billion AIDS-fighting package Bush proposed in January to prod Mbeki to move faster to bring all available weapons to bear.

"We need a common-sense strategy to make sure that the money is well-spent," Bush said at a news conference with Mbeki. "And the definition of well-spent means lives are saved, which means good treatment programs, good prevention programs, good programs to develop health infrastructures in remote parts of different countries so that we can actually get antiretroviral drugs to those who need help."

On Zimbabwe, the Bush administration has openly called for a change of government, and with Mugabe turning increasingly autocratic, Secretary of State Colin Powell urged South Africa last month to use its influence to bring about a resolution of the issue. But Mbeki, who has longstanding ties to Mugabe, and like him fought for years against white rule, has stuck to his position that the best approach is quiet, gradual diplomacy, and has expressed annoyance at Powell for pressuring him.

At their news conference Wednesday, Bush and Mbeki said they shared the aim of restoring stability to Zimbabwe.

"President Bush and myself are absolutely of one mind about the urgent need to address the political and economic challenges of Zimbabwe," Mbeki said. "It's necessary to resolve this matter as quickly as possible."

Bush said he did not have "any intention of second-guessing" Mbeki's approach, but he also signaled that the United States would continue to use diplomatic pressure to keep Zimbabwe from an economic collapse or civil war.

"I think it's important for the United States, whether it be me or my secretary of state, to speak out when we see a situation where somebody's freedoms have been taken away from them and they're suffering," Bush said. "And that's what we're going to continue to do."

Bush also visited a Ford Motor Co. factory and had dinner at the residence of the U.S. ambassador, Cameron Hume. In both events, he promoted closer economic ties between the United States and Africa, especially through trade.

Mbeki and Bush said they welcomed the deepening ties between their countries since the end of apartheid nearly a decade ago, and Bush stayed at lunch with his host for 50 minutes beyond the scheduled time, a rarity for the ever-punctual president.

But there have been strains between the countries beyond the issues of AIDS and Zimbabwe, most notably over South Africa's opposition to Bush's decision to go to war with Iraq without the backing of the United Nations. Mbeki's predecessor, Nelson Mandela, a harsh critic of the war, is out of the country and will not be meeting with Bush.

Although they were kept far from Bush, about 1,000 people gathered in a park near the U.S. Embassy to protest the president's visit, chanting, "Down Bush," and "Africa is not for sale."

"We don't want George Bush here," said Liza Xhosa, who is 35 and lives in an informal settlement in Soweto with no electricity or running water. She marched under the banner of the Landless People's Movement, which advocates the distribution of land to poor people. "Mbeki should not see Bush. Mandela does not like Bush, so why does Mbeki invite him? He should give us land and jobs instead of meeting with imperialists."

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