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U.S. Loses Vote at Population Conference

December 17, 2002 GMT

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ The United States lost a vote at an international conference Tuesday as Asia-Pacific countries rejected the Bush administration’s stand against abortion and condom use among adolescents.

The vote was held at the end of the U.N.-sponsored Asian and Pacific Population Conference, which adopted a plan of action on population policies in a bid to reduce poverty in the region.

U.S. delegates had said some of the wording, including ``reproductive health services″ and ``reproductive rights,″ could be read as advocating abortion and underage sex. But U.S. demands for changes or deletions were overwhelmingly rejected in a vote that allowed the plan to be adopted as the conference ended Tuesday.

``We wanted a development oriented conference, but the issue we had a heated debate on was abortion and underage sex,″ said Kim Hak-Su, executive secretary of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

The fifth Asian and Pacific Population conference was attended by UNESCAP’s member nations, including the United States, India, Pakistan and China, as well as several activist organizations.

Delegates said the ministerial meetings were often heated, with the United States seeking to pressure other countries.

Faced with a deadlock, the conference took a vote _ highly unusual at United Nations conferences _ on two key chapters of the plan. The United States lost the first vote 31-1 with two abstentions, and the second 32-1 with two abstentions.

The United States ended up agreeing on the plan being adopted without change, said Thoraya Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund. Its concerns were attached in a separate document that will not affect the plan.

``By joining the consensus they were part of the whole group. It is not loss or gain. It is multilateralism,″ she said.

The 22-page plan includes a series of recommended steps to implement an international family planning agreement reached in Cairo in 1994. It suggested fighting poverty by concentrating on 12 areas including family planning, gender equality and combatting HIV/AIDS.

The plan aims to halve the number of people in the Asia-Pacific region living on less than $1 per day by 2015. Nearly 67 percent of the world’s estimated 1.2 billion people who live in extreme poverty are in this region.

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Population policies ``must encompass the principle of voluntary and informed decision making and choices, the preservation and protection of human rights, including the matters related to reproductive rights and reproductive health services,″ the plan says.

It also includes the phrase ``consistent condom use″ _ a phrase the United States wanted struck out _ as a way to reduce vulnerability to infection from the virus that causes AIDS.

The U.S. delegation was not available for comment, but the Americans had said Monday that their government cannot support any program that seems to promote abortion. The United States also prefers that adolescents practice abstinence instead of using condoms to avoid pregnancy.

U.S. support for population programs is important for the region. Earlier this month, the Bush administration blocked $34 million in funds appropriated by Congress for the U.N. Population Fund.

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On the Net:

http://www.unescap.org/