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Aids concert reaches two billion audience

The world's biggest internet charity event got under way in Cape Town last night with musicians including Bono, Peter Gabriel and Annie Lennox backing the anti-Aids campaign sponsored by Nelson Mandela.

The rock singer Bono urged developed nations to correct "one of the most barbaric wrongs in history" when he and fellow stars, including Beyoncé Knowles, Queen and Ms Dynamite, answered the former South African president's call to arms.

The 46664 concert ­ named after Mr Mandela's prison number on Robben Island, which is within sight of Cape Town's Green Point Stadium ­ was streamed live on the internet, with service providers hosting the netcast free in Britain and 14 other countries. It was also shown on BBCi, MTV online and RealNetworks, with the organisers aiming to reach 2 billion people; 40,000 watched it live.

The U2 frontman, Bono, accompanied by his bandmate The Edge on guitar, performed "American Prayer" with Beyoncé. Hesaid the song was about asking "churches to open their doors, to give sanctuary that breaks the stigma that goes with being HIV positive". Speaking before the concert, he said: "The people of the world need to know ... that just because HIV/Aids is not a fresh story that it has gone away. It has got worse.

"I've just come from an orphanage where I held a beautiful little girl called Emma in my arms and she's going to die [from Aids] because it's too late to administer the drugs that could have prolonged her life."

The first act was Beyoncé, who sang her hit single "Crazy in Love". She was followed by Bob Geldof, who organised the Live Aid concerts for Ethiopia in 1985, who said: "Aids has ceased to be something to be ashamed of ­ it's just another medical condition, but if the condition is medical the solution is political."

Since leaving office, Mr Mandela has thrown himself into the campaign against Aids, admitting that he did not do enough to tackle the problem when he was president. Some 5.3 million South Africans are HIV-positive, more than in any other country, but the government has only just agreed to release funds for antiretroviral drugs, mainly due to the opposition of Mr Mandela's successor, Thabo Mbeki, who long disputed the connection between HIV and Aids.

The 46664 concert will raise funds through donations as well as downloadable versions of last night's songs, many of which had been written for the occasion and were available for 69p each. People in 17 countries could call a premium-rate line to hear a celebrity message and unreleased songs. Callers were logged as having given their support to a petition calling on governments to declare a global Aids emergency, and a portion of the cost of the phone call went to the 46664 campaign and the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Mr Mandela revisited Robben Island on Friday and said it would take greater unity and effort to conquer the disease than it took to tear down apartheid.

"I'm speechless," said Annie Lennox, who wore a T-shirt reading "17 million Aids dead". "I saw a vision of hell where Mr Mandela and his fellow inmates were kept. To sacrifice his life and still come out to fight Aids, it's incredible."

The concert will be screened globally by MTV on World Aids Day tomorrow.