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French President Proposes New Tax to  Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria

French President Jacques Chirac has proposed a special international tax to help finance the international fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The French president's suggestion came during the closing speech of a major scientific conference on AIDS in Paris.

Mr. Chirac offered no details on his tax proposal, aimed at addressing a major shortfall facing the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Officials say the fund needs $7 billion a year to be able to effectively meet its goals. It currently faces a $3 billion shortfall between now and the end of 2004. Roughly 60 percent of its funding is supposed to go to African countries, mostly to fight AIDS.

Activists have harshly criticized Western governments for not spending more on AIDS, and some developing countries for mis-spending AIDS funds.

Indeed, a small group of hecklers interrupted President Chirac's speech, denouncing what they considered paltry spending to combat the virus. Some brandished banners, according to news reports, proclaiming donors give pennies, millions die.

Earlier, U.N. AIDS Director Peter Piot told French radio that officials will continue to appeal for more resources.

Mr. Piot said another challenge is be to ensure those resources go to the people who needed them most, and to slow the spread of AIDS, particularly in Africa and Asia.

Also Wednesday, in an address to the AIDS conference, U.S. Health Secretary Tommy Thompson said the United States will continue giving money to the Global Fund. But of the $15 billion President Bush has promised to fight AIDS over the next five years, only a small percentage will go through the Fund.

The European Union has yet to match the U.S. pledge, although individual European countries like France have vowed to increase their AIDS assistance to developing countries.

In connection with the Paris conference, several prominent personalities pledged to work to raise AIDS awareness and funding to fight the virus. Among them was former South African president Nelson Mandela. He said his charity, the Mandela Foundation, would work with the Global Fund to ask people worldwide to dedicate a minute of their lives to fight AIDS.

Princess Stephanie of Monaco is taking a different approach. Nude photos of the princess will be auctioned off in October, with profits going to an AIDS association. And the Irish singer Bono has written to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to push the EU to set aside a billion dollars for the fight against AIDS.

Besides funding concerns, experts at the meeting also announced another troubling finding that 10 percent of newly infected AIDS patients in Europe have drug-resistant strains of the virus. The findings were released in a new study, and reported by The New York Times. The study suggests many European AIDS patients have returned to needle sharing or unprotected sex, the kind of behavior that speeds the spread of AIDS. No such study has so far been conducted in Africa.