French President Sarkozy Signs Agreement To Boost Relations With Libya Following Medical Workers’ Release
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on Wednesday following the release of six medical workers signed a cooperation agreement that aims to boost relations between the two countries, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports. The medical workers were imprisoned for more than eight years in Libya for allegedly intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV. In addition, the European Union on Tuesday agreed to increase aid to Libya and encouraged contributions to a Libyan fund established for the families of the HIV-positive children, according to the AP/Tribune (AP/International Herald Tribune, 7/25).
The five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor on Tuesday arrived in Bulgaria with French first lady Cecila Sarkozy, E.U. Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Benita Ferrero-Waldner and French presidential aide Claude Gueant. Cecila Sarkozy's delegation arrived in Tripoli on Sunday to negotiate the release of the medical workers. Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov pardoned the medical workers after they arrived in the country.
The medical workers in May 2004 were sentenced to death by firing squad for allegedly infecting 426 children with HIV 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. The medical workers then filed an appeal of the December 2006 conviction with the Libyan Supreme Court. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction earlier this month.
The Gaddafi Development Foundation -- which is headed by Gaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi -- earlier this month said the families of the children accepted a compensation package of about $460 million. Libya's Supreme Judicial Council -- which can approve or cancel the Supreme Court's conviction of the medical workers or issue a less serious sentence -- reduced the sentence to life in prison after each family received the compensation package (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/24).
Nicolas Sarkozy and Gaddafi in a joint statement said France and Libya "affirm their desire to give new momentum to bilateral relations and to build a strategic partnership between the two countries." U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday said that she hopes to travel to Libya soon (AP/International Herald Tribune, 7/25). In addition, the medical workers' release prompted officials at Baylor College of Medicine's International Pediatric AIDS Initiative to proceed with plans to provide HIV-positive children in Libya with treatment, McClatchy/Houston Chronicle reports. According to Mark Kline, who oversees IPAI, several physicians this fall will be deployed to Benghazi to work in a government hospital created for the HIV-positive children (Grant, McClatchy/Houston Chronicle, 7/25).
The Libyan organization representing the HIV-positive children's families on Wednesday reacted to the pardon from Parvanov. "We deeply condemn and are deeply disappointed at the absurdity and disrespect shown by the Bulgarian presidential pardon," the organization said in a statement, adding that Interpol should arrest the medical workers in Bulgaria "so that they can spend the rest of their sentences in prison." The statement did not comment on Gaddafi's decision to allow the workers to return to Bulgaria (AP/International Herald Tribune, 7/25).
Three Medical Workers Discuss Captivity, Release
In related news, three of the six medical workers on Wednesday spoke at a news conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, the New York Times reports. Kristiana Valcheva, one of the Bulgarian nurses, said, "We are shocked both by freedom and all of the other things that have happened," adding that they are "still quite disoriented and confused." Ashraf al-Hazouz, the Palestinian doctor, criticized the Arab community for not speaking out against the medical workers' treatment. According to the Times, three of the workers did not attend the news conference because they were not feeling well. According to Valcheva, the medical workers are prepared to testify in Bulgarian court in a future case against their alleged torturers. "We should always forgive," she said, adding, "Whether I will look for revenge, I don't know. They are so many things I have to think about. These individuals were serving a state. I think I could forgive them. They were not the main reason for everything bad happening to us" (Brunwasser, New York Times, 7/26).
Several newspapers published editorials in response to the medical workers' release. Summaries appear below.
Rocky Mountain News: Libya took a "major step" toward gaining respect and acceptance in the international community by releasing the medical workers, a News editorial says. Although the medical workers' release is "welcome," the "arduous efforts needed to win their freedom show that Libya is still a long way from earning international trust," the editorial says (Rocky Mountain News, 7/26).
- Toronto's Globe and Mail: The international community has "opened its arms" to Gaddafi following the medical workers' release even though the workers were "victims of a cruel miscarriage of justice," a Globe and Mail editorial says. According to the editorial, "something is wrong" with the international community's efforts to improve relations with Libya after the treatment of the medical workers (Globe and Mail, 7/26).
Wall Street Journal: It is "good news" that the "ordeal" of the medical workers is "finally over," a Journal editorial says. However, it is "bad news" that the "West wavered for eight long years while the nurses were sentenced twice to death only then to give in to Libya's blackmail to secure their release," according to the editorial (Wall Street Journal, 7/25).
Several broadcast programs recently reported on the medical workers' release. Summaries appear below.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes a discussion with journalist Matthew Brunwasser, who is covering the story from Sofia (Siegel, "All Things Considered," NPR, 7/24). Audio of the segment and expanded NPR coverage are available online. On Wednesday, "All Things Considered" reported on the medical workers' appearance at a press conference in Sofia. The segment includes comments from the medical workers (Watson, "All Things Considered," NPR, 7/25). Audio of the segment and expanded NPR coverage are available online. Wednesday's program also included a discussion with Adam Sage, Paris correspondent for the Times of London, about reaction in France to negotiations between French and Libyan leaders (Siegel, "All Things Considered," NPR, 7/25). Audio of the segment is available online.
- NPR's "Morning Edition": The segment includes comments from Susannah Sirkin, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights; the medical workers; Bulgaria Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev; and a Bulgaria resident (Watson, "Morning Edition," NPR, 7/25). Audio of the segment and expanded NPR coverage are available online. The program on Tuesday also included a report on the role of Nicolas Sarkozy and Cecilia Sarkozy in the situation. The segment includes comments from Nicolas Sarkozy; Christophe Barbier, editor of the French magazine L'Express; and French lawmaker Norwin Mameyer (Beardsley, "Morning Edition," NPR, 7/25). Audio of the segment is available online.
- PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer": The Independent Television News segment includes comments from Waldner; Alhajouj; and President Bush (Rugman, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 7/24). Audio and a transcript of the segment are available online.
- PRI's "The World": The segment includes comments from Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy and a Bulgarian resident (Brunwasser, "The World," PRI, 7/24). Audio of the segment is available online.