Video: Libya backs HIV death sentence

updated 7/11/2007 3:54:00 PM ET 2007-07-11T19:54:00

A settlement has been reached in the case of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who have been sentenced to death in Libya for infecting 400 children with the AIDS virus, the spokesman for the country's Gadhafi foundation said Tuesday.

Foundation spokesman Salah Abdessalem did not say how the deal reached with families of the HIV-infected children would affect the case against the six foreign medical workers. The announcement came a day before Libya's Supreme Court was to rule on an appeal of their sentence, which caused an international outcry and a diplomatic crisis with Bulgaria and the European Union.

"A settlement has been reached by the Gadhafi foundation and the League of the Libyan Children Infected with AIDS," Abdessalem said, referring to the group representing families of infected children. "This settlement is acceptable to all parties and will end the crisis," he told The Associated Press. "Details will be announced tomorrow."

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

The Gadhafi International Foundation for Charity Associations is headed by Seif al Islam, son of longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Seif al Islam has become an influential figure in Gadhafi's regime and an unofficial ambassador-at-large for it.

No executions
On Monday, a Bulgarian newspaper quoted him as saying the six medics had received unjust verdicts and would not be executed.

"We don't want to see executions in Libya, of Libyans or Bulgarians," the newspaper 24 Chassa quoted Seif al Islam as saying. Asked whether he could provide any guarantees that they would not be executed, he said: "I can tell you we will not execute anyone," according to the newspaper.

Libya is under intense international pressure to free the six medical personnel, 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 week to free the medics.

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. Fifty of the children have died.

Prosecutors claim intentional HIV infection
The prosecution insists that the six infected the children intentionally in experiments to find a cure for AIDS. Defense experts testified that the children were infected by unhygienic hospital conditions. In their testimony, the workers said the confessions used by the prosecution had been extracted under torture. Several of the nurses have said they were also raped to force confessions.

The medical workers were convicted and sentenced to death in 2004, but the Supreme Court ordered a retrial after an international outcry over the verdicts.

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In a ruling that shocked many in Europe, the second trial ended with the same verdict in December despite a scientific report weeks earlier saying HIV was rampant in the hospital before the six began working there.

Two Libyans — a police officer and a doctor — were put on trial on charges of torturing them and were later acquitted — which led to the six medics being put on a new trial for defamation.

They were acquitted of defamation in May, a ruling that raised hopes in Bulgaria that the main conviction and death sentences against them could be overturned by the Supreme Court.

If the Supreme Court upholds their conviction and death sentence on Wednesday, it is not necessarily the final word. When the December verdict was announced, Libya's foreign minister said a decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the sentence would go to a judicial board that could itself uphold or annul the decision.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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