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International News

Another Test for Gadhafi -- Fate of Medics Accused of Spreading AIDS in Libya Has a Nation on Edge

January 12, 2004

"They're innocent," Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said recently. He was referring to six Bulgarian medics accused by Libyan prosecutors of deliberately infecting 400 children with HIV at a hospital in Benghazi during the late 1990s. A verdict could come as early as Monday in the capital trial, which began in February 1999.

Libyan authorities no longer support Col. Moammar Gadhafi's initial claim that the infections were part of a CIA-Israeli intelligence conspiracy to undermine his regime. Now, they say the medics were experimenting with a cure when they infected the youngsters, some of whom since have died.

For many Bulgarians, the medics were exonerated when an outside assessment by Dr. Luc Montagnier -- the French co-discoverer of HIV -- suggested poor hygiene at the hospital had likely led to the infections more than a year before the Bulgarians were hired to work there.

The European Union, Amnesty International and other organizations have criticized the trial's proceedings, and Pasi claims to have a dossier of proof that the medics were severely tortured. Two of the women said they were raped.

The Libyans said they have 1,600 pages of evidence including signed confessions, and they insist the trial is transparent and fair. Nine Libyan medics also are being tried for negligence. International observers are monitoring the trial.

Some hope that even if the six are sentenced to death, their executions can be stayed and a deal reached letting them serve life sentences in a Bulgarian prison. Nikolai Zhelyazkov, a journalist with extensive travel experience in Libya, doubted a pardon is likely, as the infected children's families are pressuring Gadhafi. The Libyan leader, however, is seeking to end decades as an international pariah by renouncing weapons of mass destruction and settling with the families of those killed in the bombings of Pan Am flight 103 in 1998 and a French jet in 1989.

[PNU editor's note: On Monday afternoon, the Associated Press reported that the trial had been postponed. The verdicts, and possibly sentencing, could come when proceedings resume on Jan. 26.]

Back to other news for January 12, 2004

Adapted from:
Associated Press
01.10.04; William J. Kole

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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