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Libya releases Bulgaria AIDS medics after agreement with EU

[JURIST] Libya released six foreign medics [BBC Q&A; JURIST news archive] Tuesday who had been sentenced to life in prison [JURIST report] for allegedly infecting hundreds of children with the HIV virus, after obtaining an agreement from the European Union to normalize and develop closer political and economic ties and increase medical and infrastructure aid. The medics - five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor - have been in custody for over eight years as their case wound its way through the Libyan court system. Earlier this month, the Libyan Supreme Court upheld the death penalty [JURIST report] in the case, but the death sentences were later commuted by the Supreme Judiciary Council when the families of the infected patients dropped calls for execution after each received $1 million in compensation [JURIST report]. The six medics have consistently maintained their innocence, saying they were being scapegoated for unsanitary conditions in the Libyan hospital were they worked. Bulgaria and its allies have argued that the medics are innocent and were tortured into admitting guilt [HRW report].

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso [official profile] and French President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomed the medics' release Tuesday, hailing it as a "humanitarian gesture of Libya and its highest leader" [press release]. Sarkozy said he will travel to Libya on Wednesday, but stressed that neither France nor any other EU member paid any money to Libya to secure the medic's release. European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner [official profile] said the release "demonstrates the value of concerted EU action" [press release] and will enhance EU-Libyan relations. In June, the Bulgarian government granted citizenship to the Palestinian doctor [JURIST report] so that he would be included in any settlement along with the Bulgarian nurses. AP has more.

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