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FOCUS SHIFTS TO SLOWING DOWN GROWTH

Temporarily setting aside the divisive issue of abortion, the U.N. population conference turned Thursday to discussing how to divide a spending goal of $17 billion to slow population growth.

The abortion battle has proven so sensitive an issue that delegates assigned it to a special committee, which is to report back Friday on how to handle a section on abortion in the proposed 113-page plan.In the abortion debate, Western countries found they could make a deal with Muslims and get most countries to sign on - but not the Vatican and its staunchest allies.

When they turned to the question of finance Thursday, delegates were holding to the draft plan's $17 billion target budget, said W.A. Meier, an adviser to the New Zealand delegation.

But he said they still disagreed about how the money would be divided among categories such as family planning, AIDS prevention, research and reproductive health.

The 20-year plan calls for developed nations to pay one-third and the developing world two-thirds of the spending goal. Developing nations have already complained they cannot afford it.

The abortion debate has revealed growing anger among many delegates at the domination of the conference by the abortion issue, which most consider peripheral to the real issues of population and economic development.

Earlier this week, some delegates groaned and booed when the Vatican's representative stood up to oppose compromise language on how to deal with unsafe abortion.

"I think the Vatican is trying to hijack" the meeting, said Naomi Wanyama, Uganda's representative on the negotiating committee.

Added former U.S. Congresswoman Bella Abzug, a member of the U.S. delegation: "I don't think one religion should come into an international conference . . . and hold up its procedures."

At a noisy meeting of women's organizations from around the world Thursday, speaker after speaker expressed outrage at what they considered the Vatican's domination of the conference. The session, attended by more than 300 women, was repeatedly interrupted by anti-abortion protesters.

Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway, one of two women national leaders at the conference, said she feared family planning goals would become meaningless amid all the compromise.

Brundtland's hard-hitting speech to the conference's opening session energized women's rights activists.

"I tried to put up the stop sign on behalf of the women of the world," she said in an interview with The Associated Press.

She said she wanted to stop attempts "to water down the reality of unsafe abortions" and to block efforts to limit access to family planning information and contraceptives.

Thursday, chief Iranian delegate Mohammed Ali Taskhiri called on Brundtland to withdraw a comment in her opening statement "in which she attacked religious beliefs."

Speaking before the conference, Taskhiri didn't specify the sentence, but Brundtland in her speech Monday said, "Morality becomes hypocrisy if it means accepting mothers suffering or dying in connection with unwanted pregnancies and illegal abortion."

Taskhiri criticized parts of the population plan - saying, for instance, that Iran opposes sex education for children and teen-agers - but he gave no indication Iran would fight the document.

When negotiators started tackling the first abortion issue - unsafe abortion - Norway, Sweden, the European Union and the United States campaigned to keep key provisions.

Despite the furious debate, no country will have to put into practice the recommendations being fashioned at the 182-nation meeting. It is to set guidelines for the next 20 years for slowing the population explosion and encouraging Third World development but is not binding on any nation.

A paragraph on unsafe abortion places priority on making family planning available to reduce abortions. It says abortion should not be encouraged as a method of family planning and its legality should be left to individual countries. It also says women with unwanted pregnancies must be treated compassionately, not punitively.

"The paragraph as it stands has been very strongly endorsed by a number of Islamic countries who came into this conference with very serious reservations," said Nils Daulaire of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the chief U.S. negotiator on abortion.

Those countries include Pakistan and Iran.

Still, he said, "we were not expecting total unanimity."

The Vatican opposed a line in the draft which said that in cases where abortion is legal, it should be safe. Guatemala and Honduras later also argued against mentioning "unsafe" abortion.