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Bulgaria pardons freed medics
Libya releases convicted health workers after mediation by Qatari government.
Last Modified: 25 Jul 2007 02:59 GMT
Family and friends ran to welcome the six
on the tarmac at Sofia airport [AFP]
The Bulgarian president has pardoned five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian-born doctor, convicted in Libya of infecting children with HIV.
 
Georgi Parvanov pardoned the health workers on Tuesday after they arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria's capital, having spent eight and a half years in a Libyan prison.
Abdul-Rahman Shalqam, the Libyan foreign minister, said Parvanov had the right to pardon the medics.
 
Bulgarian radio reported "tremendous euphoria" at Sofia airport, where family members and loved ones ran to welcome the six on the tarmac, one lifting the Palestinian doctor off the ground.
In their own words


The freed health workers speak:

Valentina Siropulo, 48, nurse:
"I confessed during torture with electricity. They put small wires on my toes and on my thumbs. Sometimes they put one on my thumb and another on either my tongue, neck or ear

"The only thing that kept me alive during all these years - the painful, terrible tortures, the uncertainty, the death sentences - was the belief I cherished in my heart, in my soul, that we are innocent."

Kristiana Valcheva, 48, nurse:
"I was tortured with electric shocks, beaten and submitted to every kind of torture known since the Middle Ages.

"What kept me going was the fact that I am innocent and that I believe that if there is no human justice, there is God's justice and it will come some day.

"In the coming days I will try to learn how to be free. Thank God it is over. I hope to start my life anew."

Snezhana Dimitrova, 54, nurse:
"The good thing was that I never understood a word of what they were accusing us of in court, never accepted that they were talking about me.

"I want to forget the horror we lived through, I do not want to talk about it, I even spared my family the details about what we really went through.

"I left there a country with a vicious problem. I regret that I was chosen as one of the scapegoats for solving it. Maybe there was no other way."

Ashraf Juma Hajuj, Palestinian doctor granted Bulgarian citizenship:
"I thank great Bulgaria ... I am happy that all this ended well. Hope dies last."

"I waited so long for this moment," said Snezhana Dimitrova, one of the nurses.
 
Libya accused the five nurses and the doctor, who was granted Bulgarian citizenship last month, of deliberately infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV, the virus that can lead to Aids.
 
Death sentence
 
The six, jailed since 1999, deny infecting the children - 50 of whom died - and said their confessions were extracted under duress.
 
They were sentenced to death by a Libyan court, a sentence that was commuted to life in prison last week.
 
After a deal was reached with Libya on compensation and medical ties, the six were allowed to serve out their sentence in Bulgaria.
 
The group arrived in Bulgaria on board the French presidential jet with Cecilia Sarkozy, the French first lady, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's commissioner for foreign affairs.
 
"I share the joy of their families and friends and of the government and people of Bulgaria," Ferrero-Waldner said.
 
"For over eight years, we have never forgotten the suffering of the medical staff who have shown such dignity and fortitude during their long ordeal."
 
Sergei Stanishev, the Bulgarian prime minister, said at the airport: "The return of the medics is a direct result of Bulgaria's membership in the European Union, of the solidarity which the EU showed Bulgaria."
 
Questions remain about what concessions were made to Muammar Gaddafi's government.
 
Qatari mediation
 
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, said in a press conference on Tuesday that neither France nor the EU had made any payment to Libya.
 
Timeline


February 1999 - 19 Bulgarian medical workers are detained in probe into how children in a hospital in Benghazi became infected with HIV. 13 later freed

2000 - Trial begins. Medics say their confessions extracted through torture.

September 2003 - French Aids expert testifies epidemic broke out year before the Bulgarians arrived.

May 2004 - Nine Libyans and Bulgarian doctor acquitted, but Palestinian doctor and five Bulgarian nurses found guilty and sentenced to death.

December 2005 - Supreme Court overturns death sentences, sending case back to a lower court for retrial.

December 2006 - After seven month retrial, six medics are again found guilty and sentenced to death.

July 22 - An EU team, including wife of the French president, travel to Libya to press for release of the health workers.

July 24 - The six arrive in Bulgaria and are pardoned by Bulgaria's president.

"I can quite simply confirm to you that neither Europe nor France have made the slightest financial contribution to Libya," he told reporters in Paris.
 
But within hours, the European Union was offering Libya improved economic and political ties potentially worth billions of dollars.
 

In Tripoli, Libyan officials said European countries promised millions of dollars to a fund created to compensate families the infected children.

 

"There was only $4 million in the fund but after negotiations with Ferrero-Waldner, the amount … became $400m, extended by the EU," said Saleh Abdul-Salam, director of the Gaddafi International Foundation for Charity Associations.

 

The foundation is headed by Seif al-Islam, Gaddafi's son, and manages the fund.

 

Shalqam, the Libyan foreign minister, said Libya and the EU agreed to develop a "full partnership", with the Europeans promising a package of aid to develop Libyan hospitals and other infrastructure
 
Sarkozy thanked the Qatari government for its role in mediating an end to the crisis, and suggested it may have provided some form of additional assistance.
 
"I have had the opportunity to thank the Qatari authorities very warmly for their mediation and their humanitarian intervention. It's up to them to say if they have something to say on the subject," he said.
Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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