Bush Urges Libya To Release Nurses Sentenced to Death in HIV Infection Case
President Bush on Monday after a meeting with Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov urged Libya to release the five Bulgarian nurses sentenced to death for allegedly intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports (AP/International Herald Tribune, 6/11).
The nurses and a Palestinian doctor in May 2004 were sentenced to death by firing squad for allegedly infecting 426 children through contaminated blood products at Al Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi, Libya. They also were ordered to pay a total of $1 million to the families of the HIV-positive children. The Libyan Supreme Court in December 2005 overturned the medical workers' convictions and ordered a retrial in a lower court. A court in Tripoli, Libya, in December 2006 convicted the health workers and sentenced them to death (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/29).
The U.S. "strongly support[s] the release of the Bulgarian nurses in Libya," Bush said, adding that their release is a "high priority" for the U.S. Bush added that the U.S. with the European Union is "contributing to a fund to provide assistance to the Libyan children ... and to their families" (Bohan/Ilieva, Reuters, 6/11). Libya on Monday called on Bush to stay out of the case and allow the country to reach a solution with the European Union. "We hope that Bush and others will leave us to continue negotiations with the concerned parties so as to find a solution to this crisis," Abdelati Labidi, Libya's junior foreign minister, said (Reuters UK, 6/11).
E.U. Commissioner, German Foreign Minister Attempt To Expedite Release of Medical Workers
In related news, E.U. External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Sunday traveled to Libya in an attempt to expedite the release of the medical workers, Reuters AlertNet reports.
Ferrero-Waldner said the medical workers "can rest assured" that she will "continue to work with all [her] powers to achieve their liberation -- the sooner the better." She added, "We do see a window of opportunity for a solution, and it is our intention to make sure that it doesn't close before we can use it." Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi -- head of the Gaddafi Development Foundation and son of the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi -- on Sunday indicated that efforts to free the medical workers might be coming to a close after a "positive" initiative from the European Union (Reuters AlertNet, 6/11).
"There are positive initiatives from the European side," Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi said, adding, "We are in the last mile of a marathon race, and we are in the most difficult stage." He added, "The outcomes will be good. We hope that that is the beginning of the end of this problem."
Libya has suggested that it would free the nurses if compensation to the families of the HIV-positive children is paid. The country has demanded 10 million euros, or about $13 million, for each child's family, Reuters reports. Bulgaria has rejected the demand, saying it would be an admission of guilt, but has agreed to fund the treatment for the children at European hospitals (Sarrar, Reuters, 6/10). The European Union has donated 2.5 million euros, or about $3.3 million, to the fund, Reuters AlertNet reports (Reuters AlertNet, 6/11). Steinmeier and Ferrero-Waldner during their visit said that they hope to secure a speedy resolution to the situation and that they support an E.U. offer of medical treatment for the children, according to Driss Lagha, chair of the Association for the Families of the HIV-Infected Children. He added, "We also discussed the issue of compensation, but this is still under negotiation" (Reuters, 6/10).