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Libya's High Court Delays Ruling in AIDS Case Against Medics

Bulgaria and the European Union have welcomed a legal development in the case of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor, sentenced to death in Libya for allegedly infecting hundreds of children with the HIV virus that causes AIDS. The Libyan Supreme Court has delayed until November 15 a ruling on an appeal by the defendants.

Bulgarian foreign minister Solomon Passy, in Luxembourg for an E.U. meeting, was cautious in his reaction to the news, but gave a positive interpretation. "Obviously, the court did not confirm the verdict. So we have the reading that the court is listening more carefully to the arguments of the defense. We believe this postponement to be the last one. We hope so. We hope to have our people back in Bulgaria this year," he said.

While he found the news encouraging, he also noted that defendants have been in jail for more than six years and their well-being is a consideration.

The European Union has been working on the issue. E.U. Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero Waldner, welcomed the development and said Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is aware of the importance of the case. "It indicates for me that the Libyan supreme court accepts that the original trial needs additional consideration. And that the death sentence against the five Bulgarian nurses and the one Palestinian medical doctor cannot be confirmed. Last week in Libya I explained to Colonel Gaddafi the strong desire of the European Union that this case should be reviewed, with all the possible speed," he said.

Ms. Waldner said that after more than six years in jail, the Bulgarians and the Palestinian doctor are under grave psychological pressure, making their situation urgent. The E.U. has called the death sentences a major obstacle to Colonel Gadhafi's efforts to renew ties with the West. The E.U. rejects, on scientific grounds, the evidence that was used to convict the defendants.

The accused say they are innocent, and were forced to confess under torture. They say Libya targeted them instead of admitting the aids virus infections were caused by poor hygiene at the hospital in Benghazi, which is Libya's second largest city.

More than 400 children were infected, and Libya says some 50 have died. Families of the children have heavily pressured the Libyan government over the case, and have demanded punishment.