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Millions Mark World Aids Day Warnings Abound As U.N. Reports Accelerating Death Toll

In Rome, taxi drivers distributed safe-sex leaflets. Across Thailand, gas stations offered free condoms. And in New York, activists read out the names of thousands killed by AIDS.

World AIDS Day was marked with renewed vigor around the world Sunday after a U.N. agency reported an accelerating death toll, with nearly a quarter of the 6.4 million AIDS deaths to date occurring in the past year.

This year, 3.1 million people were infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, bringing the total number of people with HIV or AIDS to 22.6 million, UNAIDS said.

Chinese activists posted photos of an emaciated AIDS victim in Beijing’s central Zhongshan Park near the ancient imperial palace, along with posters that read, “The risks of careless sex and lifestyle hygiene.”

Health officials warn that more than 1 million Chinese - 10 times the estimated present number - could be infected with HIV by 2000 without preventive measures.

In Thailand, which has an active sex industry, gas stations distributed 3 million condoms to customers with the warning: “Be careful of AIDS when feeling naughty.” An estimated 800,000 of Thailand’s 60 million people have the HIV virus, and 50,000 more have died of AIDS.

In India, which volunteer organizations say has Asia’s worst AIDS epidemic with 1 million or more HIV cases, marches were held in Bombay, the financial capital.

More than 400 people gathered in Tokyo for the lighting of a 20-foot tree bearing 12,000 red ribbons, symbol of the fight against AIDS.

In Uganda, which has one of the world’s highest AIDS mortality rates, the official newspaper called for intensified condom promotion campaigns. It said more men were using condoms after a nationwide anti-AIDS campaign began several years ago.

In New York, volunteers stood at five podiums in front of City Hall on a dark, rainy afternoon and read out the names of thousands of people who have died from the disease.

“We do it because we want to remember the people we’ve lost,” said Ginny Shubert, who works with an AIDS services group. “We also want to remind the government that people are dying, and every day time runs out for more people that we love.”

Organizers did not know how many names were read.

In New York’s Times Square, an electronic billboard flashed the message: “Every second another person is infected with HIV.”

In San Francisco, about 300 people gathered at a new National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park. The 15-acre grove of redwoods, oak trees, ferns and mossy rocks was designated a national landmark in a bill signed by President Clinton on Nov. 12.

In a statement, Clinton said the serene sanctuary “will serve as a constant reminder of the vital work that lies before us in the battle to stop the spread of the HIV virus.”

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