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Stars give S. Africa AIDS benefit

Mandela addressed the crowd at Saturday's AIDS benefit.

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa (Reuters) -- Bono, The Corrs, Beyonce Knowles and other international stars answered Nelson Mandela's call to help fight the scourge of AIDS on Saturday, putting on a musical extravaganza broadcast across the world on the Internet.

Mandela, 85, joined 40,000 fans of all races who packed into the Green Point stadium in South Africa's tourist mecca Cape Town under a cloudless sky for the fund-raising concert.

"AIDS has ceased to be something to be ashamed of. It's just another medical condition," pop singer Bob Geldof, who organized the hugely successful Live Aid concert in London in the 1980s to help Ethiopian famine victims, told the crowd.

The disease has hit South Africa harder than any other country, with more than five million of its 45 million people infected, and is seen corroding an already fragile social fabric as it leaves an army of orphans in its wake.

The concert was part of Mandela's 46664 campaign -- named after his prison number when he was jailed during South Africa's apartheid era -- to mobilize governments to declare HIV/AIDS a global emergency and to get millions infected with the disease on life-prolonging anti-retrovirals.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation televised the concert live on its Africa channel. A live webcast was put out on the Internet on, organizers said.

Mandela, who stepped down as South Africa's first black president in 1999, has become one of the world's leading AIDS campaigners.

AIDS was a threat to humanity, but like apartheid it would be beaten, Mandela told reporters on Friday.

"South Africans fought a noble struggle against the evils of apartheid... today we find ourselves facing an even greater threat. It threatens our future on a scale that could not have been imagined," he said.

The concert will be screened globally by MTV on World AIDS Day on December 1. The music channel has offered a 90-minute concert version to broadcasters rights-free and estimates the event could reach more than two billion viewers.

Bono was among the stars at the concert.

Earlier this month, the South African government approved a national drug treatment programme to tackle AIDS, bowing to huge domestic and international pressure to act against the epidemic that is killing an estimated 600 South Africans each day.

President Thabo Mbeki's cabinet had long resisted calls for free drug treatment for infected people, but in August it ordered officials to draw up a national treatment plan.

The question of treatment had threatened to dominate the run-up to next year's general election marking 10 years since the end of apartheid.

Mbeki himself long backed so-called "AIDS dissident" scientists who questioned the link between AIDS and HIV. He has since withdrawn from public discussion over the disease.

The United Nations says more than three million people died from AIDS in 2003.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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