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At church, Obama speaks on AIDS

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., told more than 2,000 evangelicals in Orange County on Friday that he "respectfully but unequivocally" disagrees with those who oppose condom distribution to fight the AIDS pandemic. But he said that a solution to the worldwide spread of AIDS will also come from churches that guide people to make moral decisions.

Obama, who is weighing a run for the presidency, made his remarks at an evangelical AIDS conference sponsored by Saddleback Church in Lake Forest. His appearance there had drawn a fusillade of criticism from evangelicals who objected to the forum given Obama, who favors abortion rights, by church co-founder Rick Warren.

The senator did not shy away from remarks that might have discomfited his audience. In measured words, he dismissed the notion that AIDS could be stemmed simply by insisting on sexual fidelity.

"We can't ignore the fact that abstinence and fidelity, although the ideal, may not always be the reality - that we're dealing with flesh and blood men and women and not abstractions - and that if condoms and potentially things like microbicides can prevent millions of deaths, then they should be made more widely available," he said.

But he also noted the power of faith to affect the epidemic. Churches, he said, must offer "a moral framework with a faith basis to make better choices."

He called for stronger efforts by the pharmaceutical industry to provide AIDS medications to impoverished people worldwide.

Obama and other speakers appeared before church pastors and other evangelicals from 39 states and 18 countries. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., was among he speakers.

Bayh to take step on presidential bid

WASHINGTON - Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, a Democrat, intends to take the first official step toward a 2008 presidential campaign next week, officials said Friday. His plans include creation of a presidential exploratory committee, as well as appearances Monday in Iowa and next weekend in New Hampshire, the Associated Press reported.