The court on Tuesday also acquitted the officers of the charge of forcibly extracting confessions from the nurses, Aljazeera reported, prompting the Bulgarian government to cast doubt on the Libyan judiciary's integrity.

The lawyer representing the Bulgarian nurses said on Tuesday he did not rule out appealing to the Libyan Supreme Court to overturn the sentences against the defendants, according to Aljazeera.

The North African republic's judiciary sentenced five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to death by firing squad for infecting 426 children in a hospital in the eastern town of Benghazi in May 2004.

Forty-seven of the children have died.

Agencies quoted the court's presiding judge, Abd Allah Aoun, as saying in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, on Tuesday that the defendants had not forced prisoners to admit that they had deliberately infected hundreds of Libyan children with HIV, the virus that causes Aids.

"We always said we are innocent, and today's verdict reveals the truth," one of the accused Libyan police officers, Jumaa al-Meshri, said.

"There is no torture in Libya. The West wants to politicise the affair, but we left it in the hands of the law," he added, at the end of the trial that began on 25 January.

Appeal

The Bulgarians, imprisoned since 1999, say they are innocent of any crime and that they were forced to confess. They blame the Aids epidemic on poor hygiene at the hospital.

Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov visited Tripoli in late May to discuss the case of the nurses with Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi.

Libya's Supreme Court will rule on their appeal on 15 November.