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Miami Herald
Demonstrators storm the stage at AIDS conference; Hundreds
Rosemary Goudreau, Herald Staff Writer
June 5, 1989
MONTREAL - About 250 protesters stormed the stage on the opening day of the Fifth International Conference on AIDS.

With chants, placards and stomping feet, they blasted the world's response to an epidemic that researchers say is continuing to rage.

"The epidemic has not plateaued. It has not peaked. It is still continuing to spread into areas where it didn't exist before," said Dr. Jonathan Mann, the director of the World Health Organization's Global Program on AIDS.

Since the epidemic began, it is estimated that 500,000 people have become infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS. "I expect that to double in the next 2 1/2 years," Mann said.

During the 1990s, three times as many people will become infected than became infected during the '80s. There will be nine times as many cases, Mann said during the opening ceremony, disrupted by people with AIDS.

The protest was unprecedented. It began outside the Palais des Congres about an hour before the ceremony.

The protesters chanted: "They say cut back; we say fight back!"

And: "Act up, fight back, fight AIDS!"

And, in reference to Canada's immigration policy forbidding entry to HIV-infected people except for business or family visits: "The AIDS crisis knows no borders."

The protesters pushed their way into the conference hall past security officers guarding escalators to the main meeting room and took over the stage.

Almost all were men wearing black buttons with pink triangles and the words "Silence = Death."

"On behalf of people with AIDS in Canada and throughout the world, I would like to officially open the Fifth International Conference!" shouted Tim McCaskell, the head of AIDS Action Now of Toronto.

For 45 minutes, the protesters chanted and shouted until conference officials cut a deal with them. The microphones were turned on in return for the protesters' leaving after they read their "manifesto" -- a list of demands against discrimination, against mandatory testing and for rights for gay men and lesbians.

While half the group filed quietly out after making their pitch, about 100 more Saturday, in front-row seats reserved for delegates. They refused to leave and held up opening ceremonies for another hour. Finally, after the protesters promised to be quiet, the program began.

This year's conference is the biggest ever.

The series began in Atlanta with 2,000 delegates in 1985. That was the year Dr. Robert Gallo announced the discovery of the AIDS virus and Margaret Heckler, then secretary of Health and Human Services, promised a vaccine within five years.

Today, researchers say a vaccine is nowhere in sight.

The conference, which began Sunday, has attracted 10,800 delegates from 87 countries, including 50 countries in the Third World.

Almost 6,000 research papers were submitted for the six-day conference, which will feature 997 speakers and 3,547 studies presented on posters. During each day, 16 sessions will run concurrently on topics ranging from experimental treatments to society's response to the epidemic.

"From this conference will come the message that AIDS is an affliction that is worldwide, that affects every single person in this world in one way or another, and there are steps that must be taken to deal with it," said Ivan Head, the conference chairman.

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