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S. African AIDS Activists Accuse Government of 'Homicide' - 2003-03-20

Members of a South African AIDS activist group have launched a nationwide civil disobedience campaign and are demanding free medical treatment. The group is also accusing two members of the national cabinet of homicide.

Some 150 members of South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign filed charges of culpable homicide against Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and Trade Minister Alec Erwin at the Sharpeville police station.

The complainants charge that friends and family members suffering from AIDS died because the government failed to provide them with anti-retroviral drugs which prolong life.

Similar initiatives in Durban and Cape Town have resulted in the arrest of about 100 people in Cape Town, who were charged and released when they refused to leave the police station.

The action marks the start of a nationwide civil disobedience campaign by the Treatment Action Campaign to demand that the drugs be made available to AIDS sufferers in state medical facilities.

Campaign members say they will occupy police stations and government offices until 600 of their members have been arrested to highlight their claim that 600 AIDS-related deaths take place in South Africa each day.

The South African government has been severely criticized for responding too slowly to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. About 20 percent of the country's adult population is believed infected.

Last month the head of UNAIDS, Stephen Lewis, urged the South African government to introduce anti-retroviral treatment programs.