Bush pleas for Bulgarian lives

“This is a legal matter which cannot be influenced by any political decision,” Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel Rahman Shalgam told the Arab satellite television network Al-Jazeera.

In Washington, where he was meeting with Bulgarian President
Georgi Parvanov, Mr Bush earlier called on Libya to free the nurses.

“There should be no confusion in the Libyan government’s mind that those nurses ought to be, not only spared their life, but out of prison,” Mr Bush told reporters. “We will continue to make that message perfectly clear.”

The five nurses and a Palestinian doctor are in a Libyan under a sentence of death and could face a firing squad.

They were convicted last year, after six-and-a-half years in jail, of deliberately infecting children with the AIDS virus at a hospital in Benghazi, in northern Libya.

Of the 380 children that were infected, 47 have died.

Two nurses and the doctor initially confessed to the charges but later claimed police extracted their confessions with torture including beatings and electric shocks.

But in a controversial ruling in June, a Libyan court cleared police of mistreating the nurses and doctor.

Numerous AIDS experts, including Dr Luc Montagnier, who discovered the AIDS virus, have testified that the children were infected as a result of poor hygiene at the hospital and that the epidemic was under way before the nurses arrived in the country, an argument rejected by Libyan authorities.

Compensation for families

Last year the Libyan government, in a move to allow the six to be freed, sought compensation for the victims’ families equal to that paid out by Libya to relatives of those killed in a bomb attack on a Pan Am plane over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988.

Bulgaria rejected the request as absurd and said it would not pay “blood money” as the nurses were not guilty.

Meanwhile the European Union as well as human rights groups have lobbied intensively for the Libyan government to show clemency in the case.

Libya’s ambassador to London Mohammed al-Zoui said in August that the only way to resolve the issue is for Bulgarian authorities to conclude an accord with the families.

Such an outcome would “have a positive influence over the case of the Bulgarians and will be in line with Islamic law which foresees the paying of blood money,” he said.

However in June the families of the Libyan victims ruled out any negotiations to reach an amicable agreement and demanded that the death sentences be executed.

Critics say the nurses and the doctor are being used as scapegoats by Libya and criticise the West for putting the issue on the back burner for years while at the same time bringing the former pariah state back into the international fold.

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