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Asian prostitutes demanded better working conditions Wednesday, telling an international conference on AIDS that they should not be considered criminals, just ordinary people who need medical coverage and other benefits.

In a statement to delegates of the fourth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, the group said unsafe working conditions rather than prostitution itself caused the spread of AIDS.

Khantini Slahnaih, a homosexual from Malaysia, said the fear of police raids on brothels reduced the time available for prostitutes to convince clients to use condoms.

"You need at least 20 minutes to negotiate condom use," he said, adding that many workers have been forced into prostitution by poverty.

He also said prostitutes should not be subjected to rape, assault, extortion and other forms of harassment by the authorities.

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