Libya court to deliver nurses' HIV case verdict

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trial in LibyaFive Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor could face the firing squad if a Libyan court convicts them on Tuesday on charges of deliberately infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV.

Concluding a retrial regarded by the outside world as a test of justice in Libya, the court will make a decision that, either way, is likely to have repercussions on the north Africa's gradual rapprochement with the West.

The six are accused of intentionally infecting 426 Libyan children with HIV at a hospital in Benghazi in the late 1990s. The prosecution has demanded the death penalty.

The medics were convicted in a 2004 trial and sentenced to death by firing squad. But the supreme court quashed the ruling last year and ordered the case be returned to a lower court.

Medical and human rights associations around the world have rallied to the medics' defense to prevent what they say may be a miscarriage of justice.

But in Benghazi, where more than 50 of the infected children have died, most people have seen a member of their extended family touched by the tragedy. There is profound public anger against the nurses and international efforts to free them.

LIBYAN MEDIA WANTS GUILTY VERDICT

State-controlled media want a guilty verdict for the six, who have been in detention since 1999.

Aljamahirya newspaper wrote: "What would happen if Bulgarian children were injected with the AIDS virus? Would millions of Bulgarians keep silent about the crime? We say to everyone: Our children's blood is precious."

Al-Shams newspaper wrote: "It's very difficult to understand the stance of those in solidarity with the accused."

"Who deserves greater reason for solidarity -- The children who are dying without having committed any offence, or those in white coats who distributed death and wiped the smile from the lips of hundreds of families?"

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, who helped negotiate a full resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Libya, arrived in Tripoli on Friday and discussed "issues which hinder improvements in relations" with Libyan officials, the Libyan news agency Jana reported.

It gave no details. Welch has previously said a way should be found for the nurses to return home.

The case has hampered Tripoli's process of rapprochement with the West, which moved up a gear when it abandoned its pursuit of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in 2003.

But analysts say freeing the defendants would put the focus on alleged negligence and poor hygiene in Libyan hospitals, which western scientists say are the real culprits in the case.

Defense lawyer Othman Bizanti has said that in 1997 -- a year before the nurses came to Libya -- about 207 cases of HIV infection had been found in Benghazi that had not resulted in any legal proceedings. He has questioned why the authorities have not followed them up.

In June 2005 a Libyan court acquitted nine Libyan policemen and a doctor of torturing the medics.

Washington backs Bulgaria and the European Union in saying the medics are innocent. Libya has proposed compensation which it says would open a way for a pardon and the medics' release.

Sofia and its allies reject that proposal.

source - Reuters