- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 24, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Appeals for mercy for six foreign medical workers awaiting death in Libya have multiplied across Europe, with their fate regarded as a major test of Libya’s international acceptance.

One by one, European Union member states expressed horror at yet another verdict — the third — last week, ordering the six to be executed by firing squad after seven years of imprisonment on charges of infecting 426 Libyan children with the AIDS virus.

Twenty of the infected children have since died, and most of the others are being treated in specialized clinics in Italy and France.

The European Union formally challenged the verdict and the judicial procedure during which testimony by Western experts was generally rejected or ignored. The United Nations said the death penalty for the six “would constitute a violation of international human rights laws.” Some Arab governments say the verdict threatens the emergence from international ostracism of Libya and its leader, Moammar Gadhafi, who, at one stage of the procedures, said the children were victims of an experiment carried out by the six defendants.

The European appeals called for a “quick and humane solution” to the situation during which the six — five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor — reportedly have suffered psychological torture since the first verdict in 1999. Two nurses say they have been raped to exact confessions.

The barrage of criticism and appeals prompted unofficial Libyan hints that the sentences might be commuted by yet another legal body known as the Higher Judicial Council.

“This is not the final verdict,” said Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalqam.

Shortly before the latest verdict in Tripoli, Libya’s capital, a group of international scientists at Oxford University in England produced what it described as more proof that the children were infected at Benghazi’s Children’s Hospital before the arrival of the foreign medical workers.

Dr. Tulio de Oliveira, a molecular virologist at Oxford, said, “The evidence shows the chain of infection started a few years before the arrival of the foreign staff accused of causing it deliberately.”

He said the latest findings would be submitted to the Libyan authorities.

Meanwhile, European attention focused on the functioning of the legal system in Libya, which calls itself “a state of the masses” governed by “direct democracy.”

For years, Libya was boycotted by the West as a country that sanctioned terrorism and sought access to weapons of mass destruction. However, last May the United States removed Libya from its list of countries sponsoring terrorism and re-established diplomatic relations with Tripoli, which had been interrupted in 1972.

When the relations were resumed, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described Libya as “an important model as nations around the world press for changes in behavior.”

After last week’s verdict against the medical workers, Miss Rice said she was “disappointed.” President Bush also expressed dismay at the verdict in a telephone conversation with Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov on Thursday.

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