Helsinki, Thursday

A Finnish court sentenced an American to 14 years in prison on 17 charges of attempted man-slaughter today, ruling that he had unprotected sex even though he knew he had the virus that causes Aids.

''The defendant is found guilty of attempts at manslaughter on the basis that he was aware of his HIV infection while committing the acts and that he concealed his disease,'' the court said.

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Steven Thomas, 36, from New York, was found to have infected five of 17 women with the virus and was or-dered to pay damages of between #39,000 and #45,000 to each victim.

The case stunned Finland when a picture of Thomas, who is black, was splashed alongside his name in the Finnish press, and police said he may have had unprotected sex with more than 100 Finnish women.

Some Finns, including leading politicians, voiced concerns about privacy rights and said publishing the picture risked labelling a whole group of foreigners or black people as suspicious. Finland has a very low rate of HIV infection and a relatively very small black population.

Thomas's lawyer, Aar-no Arvela, said he would appeal against the sentence, which he de-scribed as one of the harshest in Finland short of life imprisonment: ''I hope to get understanding for the view that what he did was not deliberate,'' he said.

However, the court said Thomas committed the crimes between March 1993 and mid-December 1996, when the deadly nature of the virus, transmitted through body fluids, was well known.

Thomas came to Hel-sinki in 1991 and married a Finnish woman, but later separated. He held various bar and restaurant jobs and had two children with his wife, and later a third child with another wo-man. He tested positive for the Aids virus in 1993.