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Thursday, July 1, 1999 Published at 09:14 GMT 10:14 UK

UK Politics

Vatican gets Short shrift

Clare Short: Accuses the Vatican of being dangerously reactionary

The Vatican has entered an unholy alliance with the most reactionary countries in the world to stop an international effort to halt population growth, according to the UK international development secretary.

Clare Short: "The poor old Vatican has just got this wrong"
Clare Short, who describes herself as an ethnic Catholic, attacked the Holy See for its behaviour at a United Nations population control conference in New York.

She accused it of seeking to reverse a previous agreement aimed at curbing the explosion in the number of people in the world.

[ image: Opposition to birth control remains fierce within the Holy See]
Opposition to birth control remains fierce within the Holy See
The Vatican had joined forces with Muslim nations opposed to contraception and sex education - regarded as the solution by western policy-makers.

Despite this, the refusal of many Catholic countries including Ireland and Spain to back the Vatican's stance meant it had not succeeded, Ms Short said.

"The poor old Vatican has just got this wrong," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"They have teamed up in an alliance here in New York at the United Nations with Sudan, Algeria - some of the most reactionary countries in the world - to try and undo the agreement at Cairo."

World Population
The Cairo agreement reached in 1994 aimed to stop the growth in world population around the 10 billion mark. Currently, there are about six billion people living on the earth.

Ms Short said the Vatican had lost the argument and claimed this represented a victory for civilisation.

[ image: Former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell is an ambassador for the UN population fund]
Former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell is an ambassador for the UN population fund
"We now know what to do and oppression doesn't work," she said.

"If we do all the civilised things - give people access to contraception, give girls education - then the world's population will stabilise at 10 billion.

"If we don't develop and civilise then it will grow and grow and the strains on the world will become unbearable."

Ms Short earlier told the UN it had failed to take strong enough action to tackle the spread of Aids.

"We must stop pretending that sex does not happen to young people," she told the UN general assembly on Wednesday.

"We must start living up to our responsibility to tell young people what they need to know."

She is also demanding greater action to stop women dying in childbirth.

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