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Bill Clinton’s speech at international AIDS conference disrupted by protesters

July 27, 2018

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 24: Former President of the United States, Bill Clinton, delivers a keynote speech at the 6th Annual World Patient Safety, Science and Technology Summit on February 24, 2018 in London, England. President Clinton addressed healthcare leaders at the summit focusing on eliminating preventable deaths in hospitals. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

Activists disrupted a speech by Bill Clinton at the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam on Friday.

The former US president was giving the closing speech at the conference when activists interrupted his address, walking down the central aisle of the conference hall with red umbrellas.

The protesters, including the civil-rights activist, Cecilia Chung, were demanding the decriminalisation of sex workers and drug users and also arguing for the next conference in 2020 not to be held in the US.

The activists took turns to ask the former statesman when he would back decriminalising sex workers and drug users, and whether he thought San Francisco was an appropriate location for the 2020 conference to be held.

The location of the 2020 conference in San Francisco has proved controversial (Image: aids2020.org)

In response, Clinton said: “You should also know for those of us who care about this issue in the United States, it is a sacred place.

Many people died and all the first battles were fought, and they died some more. So I think when you get there, you’ll be glad they held the conference in San Francisco.”

Matthew Hodson, of the HIV-information website AIDS map and who was attending the conference told PinkNews that the audience were broadly sympathetic to the protesters’ aims.

He said: “I couldn’t put a figure on it, but they received very warm applause from the delegates and they also received applause from President Clinton too.

“I do think it’s problematic that they are planning on holding the next conference in San Francisco, I’m very concerned that key populations will be discouraged from attending.

If you fear that you will be turned away and you’re travelling from distance and aren’t very well-resourced financially, then there’s a risk that you can’t actually get there.”

He added: “I also agree with the protesters that the criminalisation of sex workers and drug users creates barriers to accessing HIV treatment and support services. Sex workers being marginalised, that only fuels the epidemic.

“I think it’s really important on a global level that we look at how societies around the globe treat sex workers and the response we give sex workers is helpful in any way. Certainly, in terms of HIV prevention, it’s not.”

The planned location of San Francisco for the conference, held every two years in a different city, is fiercely opposed by activist groups because of a hostile environment in Trump’s America to groups most affected by the condition.

The travel ban by President Trump which limits entry to the US from certain Muslim-majority countries is also given as a reason why San Francisco is an unsuitable location as the conference aims to provide a global response to HIV and AIDS. The ban could make it hard for delegates to get visas to attend the conference.

Prince Harry speaks at the the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam (KensingtonRoyal/Twitter)

One community organiser, Gina Brown, tweeted: “If they insist on S.F for AIDS2020, I will demand more US scholarships.

I looked around AIDS2018 and noticed there were no youth (SGL, Cisgender women, Trans, Black, Latinx, people from the South). The very populations that are still bearing the brunt of this epidemic.”

“The decision to bring the International AIDS Conference to the U.S.A in 2020 reflects a gross disregard to the expressed requests of gay men, people who use drugs, and sex workers that the conference be hosted in a country where our participation is possible,” said George Ayala, executive director of MPACT Global Action for Gay Men’s Health and Rights, in a statement earlier this week.

The location is also being challenged by activists on social media under the hashtag #AIDS2020ForAll.

More: aids conference, President Clinton, protest

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