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YELTSIN SIGNS BILL REQUIRING FOREIGNERS TO TEST FOR HIV

Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a controversial AIDS law Monday requiring foreigners traveling to his country for more than three months to test for HIV

Yeltsin's pen stroke put an end to months of debate that began last November, when parliament passed a stricter bill demanding testing for all visitors regardless of the length of their stay.The Kremlin boss vetoed that bill under pressure from AIDS activists, health care workers and members of Russia's foreign com-munity.

But the rewritten draft, passed overwhelmingly by the lower house of parliament in February, is a virtual carbon-copy of the old one and drew a renewed wave of protest from activists and other critics.

"The new law contains no principle differences from the previous document and probably will not change Russian AIDS policy," Russian Battle Against AIDS Center chief Vadim Pokrovsky told the Itar-Tass news agency.

Mandatory testing and a clause calling for deportation of foreigners infected with the AIDS virus violates human rights norms and will damage Russia's image abroad, said Kevin Gardner, chairman of the Moscow AIDS information and education center AESOP.

"The three-month rule may lower some of the administrative costs, but the human cost is still tremendous," Gardner said. "The trauma that people with HIV will go through, fearing they will not be allowed into Russia or will deported, has not been considered."

There are currently fewer than 1,000 registered AIDS cases in Russia - though activists say the actual number is in the tens of thousands.