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Mbeki pushes case of Aids 'dissidents' OWN CORRESPONDENT, Washington | Wednesday 1.00pm.
PRESIDENT Thabo Mbeki has written to US President Bill Clinton and other world leaders defending an alternative medical approach to Aids. The letter to Clinton, dated April 3 and sent by diplomatic pouch, so stunned officials here that the administration restricted its distribution fearing it would touch off an international controversy, The Washington Post said on. In his five-page letter, a copy of which was made available to the daily by a US official, Mbeki makes an impassioned defence of California biologist Peter Duesberg, who theorizes that the HIV virus does not cause Aids and that AZT, or Nevirapine, does more harm than good in treating the disease. Mbeki insisted on his government's right to consult dissident scientists and accused unnamed foreign critics of waging a "campaign of intellectual intimidation and terrorism" akin to "the racist apartheid tyranny we opposed". "In an earlier period in human history," Mbeki wrote, Duesberg and his followers "would be the heretics that would be burnt at the stake". Duesberg has been largely discredited by the international scientific community." "The day may not be far off when we will, once again, see books burnt and their authors immolated by fire by those who believe that they have a duty to conduct a holy crusade against the infidels," Mbeki added in his letter. US officials fear Mbeki's views could sway other African nations, since South Africa is seen as a leader on the continent. It has been selected to host this year's international conference on Aids. At loggerheads with his own medical community Mbeki seeks a way out of the Aids crisis in his country, which stems from the prohibitive cost of the "cocktail" of anti-HIV drugs ($10 000 per patient per year) for most South Africans. With 4,2-million HIV-positive South Africans -- more than 10% of the population, officials who know Mbeki told the daily the president had spent a lot of time browsing the Internet for information on Aids, until he came across Web sites that popularises Duesberg's theory late last year. In his hand-addressed letters -- one of which was sent to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Mbeki said that "it would constitute a criminal betrayal of our responsibility to our own people" to mimic foreign approaches to treating Aids. -- AFP