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Princess Diana Cuddles AIDS Babies

February 4, 1989 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Britain’s Princess Diana hugged a child with AIDS on Friday while visiting children suffering from the deadly disease at a hospital before ending her three-day visit to New York.

Hundreds of excited workers at Harlem Hospital craned their necks for a glimpse of the 27-year-old princess when she arrived.

″There’s been great joy in this lobby,″ said the pediatrics director, Dr. Margaret Heagarty. ″The hospital has been buzzing for days.″

The visit capped the princess’ short trip to New York, which included stops at a homeless shelter and day-care center on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and several nighttime social events, including a performance by the Welsh National Opera. She flew out of Kennedy International Airport on a Concorde supersonic jet during the afternoon.

At Harlem Hospital, where she toured the pediatrics ward, the former teacher placed her finger in the curled hand of a 11-month-old boy with AIDS as the infant gazed at her from his grandmother’s arms.

Diana stroked four other infants. Then, Heagarty said, ″unrehearsed and of her own volition ... she picked up a little boy who has AIDS and hugged him″ after first asking the 7-year-old: ″Are you heavy?″

The princess also attended a 10-minute briefing given by Heagarty; Dr. Elaine Abrams, the head of the pediatrics AIDS unit; and Martha Grates, the nursing director.

Diana long has been a champion of the battle against acquired immune deficiency syndrome. In 1987, she declined to wear gloves while shaking the hands of AIDS patients at Middlesex Hospital in London, helping to ease the stigma of the disease, which cannot be transmitted through casual contact.

From the hospital, Diana went to a private reception at the residence of British Consul General Gordon Jewkes for about 60 contributors to the Royal Academy of Music.

John Curley, president of Gannett Co. Inc., and his wife, Ann, said the Princess seemed at ease and stuck to small talk, mainly about her visit, while she circulated among the groups of guests.

″She listened as much as she spoke,″ Curley said. ″And she talked to everybody in the group.″

When she was excusing herself from Curley’s group, he recalled her saying: ″I’ve to put on my skates and move on.″