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Libya Commutes Medics' Death Sentence in AIDS Case


The death sentence of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor accused of infecting hundreds of Libyan children with the AIDS virus, HIV, has been commuted to life in prison. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome the Bulgarians' effort now is to get the nurses repatriated.

The ruling came after the families of the children each received $1 million in compensation.

The families agreed to drop their demand for the execution of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor charged with having infected with HIV more 400 Libyan children at a hospital in the northeastern coastal city of Benghazi.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin called the ruling "a huge step in the right direction."

International experts and outside scientific reports have said for years that the children were contaminated as a result of unhygienic conditions in the Libyan hospital.

Libya's Supreme Court had upheld the death sentence of the six medics last week, but the Judiciary Council meeting late Tuesday overruled the court and commuted the sentences to life imprisonment.

Libya remains under intense international pressure to free the medical workers who have been in prison since 1999.

Libya's Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalqam said Tripoli was willing to consider the medics' deportation to Bulgaria. He said the negotiations would take place within "the legal framework and political context" between the two countries.

The United States and European Union welcomed the move by the Libyan judicial council, which could remove an obstacle toward rebuilding ties with Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

The United States said the ruling was a "positive step" and State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. was "encouraged" by the decision. He urged the Libyan government to find a way now to allow the medics to return home.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said it was a relief that Libya's High Judicial Council did not uphold the death sentence.

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