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Death Sentences Overturned On Bulgarian Medics In Libya

(RFE/RL) 25 December 2005  -- Libya's Supreme Court today overturned the death sentence for five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor and ordered a retrial.

The six medical workers -- who have been in jail in Libya since 1999 -- were convicted of deliberately infecting 426 children at a hospital in Benghazi with the HIV virus.

Bulgarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dimitar Tsanchev welcomed today's decision: "The Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs appreciates very positively today's decision of the Libyan Supreme Court on the case of the Bulgarian nurses in Libya. We think that the new trial, in fact, that will take place, gives a new opportunity to have a positive and fast solution."

Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov also said he hoped today's decision will allow the case to end soon.

The U.S. State Department called the decision a "positive development" while the European Commission -- the EU's executive body -- said it hoped it can lead to a "rapid and fair settlement."

However a lawyer for the nurses, Hari Haralampiyev, expressed cautious optimism, saying there were still long legal sessions ahead.

Libyan Justice Minister Ali Hasnawi told AFP that the new trial would be held "in one month" and that there would be "new judges."

Bulgaria last week announced the creation of a fund for AIDS-infected children in Libya. Bulgaria said the fund had been agreed in coordination with the European Commission, the United States, and Britain.