- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2007

TRIPOLI, Libya — The nation’s Supreme Court yesterday upheld the death sentences of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor convicted of infecting more than 400 children with the AIDS virus. But the verdict may not be the final word in the case.

Libya’s Supreme Judicial Council, which is headed by the minister of justice, could approve or reject the convictions or set lighter sentences. Libya’s foreign minister said the council would convene Monday.

Libya has been under intense international pressure to free the six, who deny infecting the children. The case has become a sticking point in Libya’s attempts to rebuild ties with the United States and Europe. President Bush called on Libya last month to free the medics.

“The court has accepted the appeal in principle but rejects its content; therefore, the court decided to uphold the verdict against them,” Judge Fathi Dahan said in court.

About 20 relatives of HIV-positive children rejoiced at the court’s ruling and chanted: “Long live justice.”

“This is a victory for the Libyan judiciary system. We are awaiting the execution of the death sentence,” said the families’ attorney, al-Monseif Khalifa.

In Sofia, Bulgaria, relatives of the medical workers released white doves in front of the Libyan Embassy in what they called a sign of hope that their loved ones will soon be free.

In announcing the verdict, the judge mentioned nothing about a settlement announced Tuesday by a foundation headed by the Libyan leader’s son.

The Gadhafi International Foundation for Charity Associations said the families of the HIV-positive children reached an agreement with the nurses and doctor but would not say whether it involved financial compensation for the families.

The foundation is headed by Seif al-Islam al-Gadhafi, son of longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. He has been active for months in trying to resolve the case of the medics.

The Libyan leader had tried in the past to reach a deal by which Bulgaria would compensate the victims. But the Bulgarian government rejected the proposal, saying it would imply the nurses’ guilt.

Idris Lagha, head of the Association for the Families of the HIV-Infected Children, said Tuesday that a deal would be announced in a couple of days.

“There’s another appeal, an even higher level of judicial authority that will review the case,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said of the court ruling. “It is still our stated position that these individuals, these nurses and medics, be returned as soon as possible, if not immediately, to their home countries.”

Chief Bulgarian prosecutor Boris Velchev also voiced hope that politicians will achieve what the Libyan court has not — a pardon of the nurses and their return to Bulgaria.

The six began working at the hospital in the city of Benghazi in 1998 and were arrested the next year after more than 400 children there contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Fifty of the children died.

The prosecution insists that the six infected the children intentionally in experiments to find a cure for AIDS. Defense experts testified that the children contracted the virus because of unhygienic hospital conditions.

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