President Bush Urges Libya To Free Bulgarian Health Care Workers Convicted of Infecting Children With HIV
President Bush on Monday urged the Libyan government to free five Bulgarian nurses who were sentenced to death for allegedly infecting 400 Libyan children with HIV, Reuters reports. "The position of the United States is the nurses ought to be free," Bush told reporters during an Oval Office meeting with Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov (Reuters, 10/17). The nurses, along with a Palestinian physician, were sentenced to death by firing squad in May 2004 for allegedly infecting the children through contaminated blood products. They also were ordered to pay a total of $1 million to the families of the HIV-positive children. Many HIV/AIDS experts say that the infections likely are the result of the Libyan Health Ministry's failure to screen blood products adequately and poor sterilization practices at Al Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi, Libya, where the children were infected. Libya's Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case on Nov. 15 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/17). Bush said that he and Parvanov discussed the case for some time. "We have made our position known to the Libyan government," Bush said, adding, "There should be no confusion in the Libyan government's mind that those nurses should be, not only spared their life, but out of prison, and we'll continue to make that message perfectly clear" (Reuters, 10/17).
Wall Street Journal Editorial
The New York Times has reported that European negotiators are secretly discussing a monetary settlement with Libya in return for the nurses' release, but "[w]e hope that report is false," a Wall Street Journal editorial says. Libya has demanded $4 billion for the nurses' release, but Bulgaria has refused to pay, the editorial notes. Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi "has been seeking to ingratiate himself with the West for years" and "has been rewarded" with the removal of the trade embargo and high-level visits from British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), the Journal says, adding, "Now is no time to encourage him to revert to old habits." Bush's comments on this "preposterous case" are "useful and timely, ... but the broader lesson is that just because a tyrannical regime ceases to threaten others doesn't mean it is no longer a menace to its own people or the unlucky strangers it chances upon," the editorial concludes (Wall Street Journal, 10/18).