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Australia PM mulls limits on HIV immigrants

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Prime Minister John Howard said yesterday that Australia should bar immigrants with HIV, and his government was examining ways to make its tough restrictions even stronger.

HIV-AIDS workers accused Howard of xenophobia and promoting the racist belief that immigrants -- particularly Africans -- were responsible for bringing the disease to Australia.

Advocates also said they were puzzled by the idea of tightening laws when the vast majority of HIV-positive prospective migrants and refugees were rejected under the current rules.

Howard was asked in a radio interview in Melbourne, the capital of Victoria state, if he thought people with HIV should be allowed into Australia as migrants or refugees.

Howard replied that while he wanted more advice on the issue, "my initial reaction is, no."

"There may be some humanitarian considerations that could temper that in certain cases, but prima facie -- no," he told Southern Cross Broadcasting. "I think we should have the most stringent possible conditions in relation to that."

He said Health Minister Tony Abbott was "examining ways of tightening things up."

Many countries, including the United States, restrict immigration and visa approvals for people with HIV, though there are often exceptions, such as when an HIV-positive prospective migrant is related to an Australian citizen .

The Victoria health minister said this week that 70 of the 334 new HIV cases reported in Victoria in 2006 were among immigrants who had arrived with the virus.