'Deal reached' in Libya Aids case

Accord could commute death penalty for five Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor.

    Libya's supreme court is expected to uphold the death penalty against the six foreign health workers [AFP]

    The announcement came hours before Libya's supreme court was due to deliver a verdict on Wednesday on an appeal by the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor convicted of infecting the children.
    Stalled negotiations
    Snezhana Dimitrova, Nasya Nenova, Valya Cherveniashka, Valentina Siropulo and Kristiana Valcheva have been imprisoned along with doctor Ashraf Ahmed Juma since February 1999.
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    Watch Amr El-Kahky's report on Libya's Aids-infected children

    Negotiations had been stalled over financial compensation for the victims' families in an out-of-court settlement that could allow the medics to escape execution.
    The court deferred its judgment at an initial hearing on June 20, when the prosecution sought confirmation of the death sentences against the six, who maintain their innocence and say they confessed under duress.
    They were convicted of infecting 438 children with HIV-tainted blood at a hospital in the Mediterranean city of Benghazi. Fifty-six of the children have since died.
    Foreign health experts have cited poor hygiene as the probable cause of the epidemic in Libya's second city.
    According to Othman al-Bizanti, a Libyan lawyer acting for the nurses, the court on Wednesday could again defer its verdict.
    "Justice must be given a chance and allow time for all of the parties so that truth can prevail, especially when it concerns the death penalty"

    Othman al-Bizanti, Libyan lawyer defending the Bulgarian nurses

    Speaking to AFP news agency, he said: "Justice must be given a chance and allow time for all of the parties so that truth can prevail, especially when it concerns the death penalty."
    The families of the five nurses demanded that the women be acquitted when their final appeal is heard. They say that a new death sentence followed by an expected pardon later would not be justice for them.
    The European Union and the Gaddafi Foundation, a charity headed by the son of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's leader, had reached a compromise on the care of surviving children, the families said last month.
    But Idriss Lagha, a spokesman for the families' had said in late June that there was "still one sticking point concerning compensation".
    At the time, Lagha voiced optimism that a compromise could still be reached that "will be considered a renunciation by the families of the death sentence handed down to the medics".
    Such an agreement would then be presented to a higher council of judicial authorities, which could commute the death penalty to jail terms.
    These sentences could be served in the medics' country of origin, as Libya and Bulgaria have an extradition treaty. The doctor was recently granted a Bulgarian passport, meaning he could benefit from such an arrangement as well.
    US lobbying
    The White House on Tuesday said that George Bush, the US president, had sent a letter to Gaddafi urging him to help in the dispute over the fate of the medics.
    Bush told the Libyan leader that the case and lingering issues tied to the 1989 Lockerbie bombing needed his attention.
    Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said: "President Bush noted the importance of resolving outstanding issues, specifically for victims of Pan Am 103 and LaBelle bombings, as well as the situation of the detained Bulgarian nurses and doctor in Libya."
    The six medics still face defamation charges brought by a senior police officer after having been acquitted in May on similar charges brought by three others.
    The cases arise from claims the medics made their "confessions" in the Aids trial were forced from them under torture, including beatings, electric shocks and being threatened with dogs.
    If found guilty in the new trial, brought by Salim Jomaa Salim, head of the police canine unit, they face sentences of up to three years in jail.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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