Friday, May 12, 2006

Retrial for Bulgarian Nurses Begins

May 11, 2006

Libya took six years to sentence six foreign medical workers -- five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor -- to death for infecting patients with AIDS in 1998. Condemned abroad as a show trial, the sentences were overturned in December. The retrial starts on Thursday.

The retrial of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor accused of knowingly infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV will start in a Tripoli court on Thursday, months after a higher court overturned their death sentences. The case has caused tension not only between Libya and Bulgaria, but between Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and the West.
Osman Bizanti, a Libyan lawyer for the medical workers, said he would immediately ask for their release on bail. "Those will be my first words on Thursday," Bulgaria's Trud daily newspaper quoted him as saying on Wednesday. He also said he would ask for a recess so the defense team would have time to study the prosecution's new case.
The first trial lasted almost six years and turned the foreign workers into notorious celebrities within Libya for a scandal that broke in 1998, when over 400 children at the Fatih Clinic in the Libyan coastal city of Benghazi were found to be infected with AIDS. The trial has also stalled Col. Gadhafi's project of ending thirty years of diplomatic isolation from the West. Bulgaria, the European Union, and the United States insist the medical workers are innocent.
The accused say their confessions had been coerced by Libyan police who tortured them with electric shocks and wooden clubs. The court also ignored evidence from two European doctors who concluded the virus had spread through the clinic at least six months before the Bulgarian workers arrived. Western observers say the surprising death sentences were a way for Gadhafi to scapegoat foreigners for unsanitary conditions in the Benghazi clinic. Poor medical care in Libya has been a political problem for him.
About 50 of the infected children have since died. Families of all the kids are outraged. The case has inflamed anti-western sentiment within Libya, and Tripoli has demanded $10 million for every infected child -- terms Bulgarian authorities reject. But the European Union has set up a fund to pay for a new clinic AIDS clinic in Benghazi.
The Libyan Supreme Court's overturning of the death sentences in December 2005 gave some western observers hope that the new trial in a lower court would be over quickly. But Bulgaria's foreign ministry said on Wednesday that there was no reason to think the suspects will go free overnight.
"This is the first sitting of a new trial. It is not realistic to expect any dramatic development on the case," said Dimitar Tsantchev, spokesman for Bulgaria's foreign ministry.

msm/bbc/reuters

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