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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 November 2005, 08:31 GMT
Libya delays 'HIV medics' verdict
Valya Chervenyashka (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch)
Valya Chervenyashka's daughter called the charges absurd
Libya's highest court has delayed a ruling on the death sentences of six foreign health workers accused of infecting children with HIV.

Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor were sentenced to death in 2004, in a case which has drawn condemnation from Europe and the United States.

Human rights groups have said the medics were tortured in detention.

Libya's prime minister insists the case is legal, not political, and that the country's courts are independent.

The Libyan Supreme Court had been due to consider the medics' appeal against the death sentence on Tuesday, but postponed a ruling until 31 January 2006.

The court said it was giving the defence more time to prepare.

Families of children who had died of Aids demonstrated outside the court, demanding the death sentences be carried out, the Associated Press reported.

In Bulgaria, the daughter of one of the nurses described the experience as "a nightmare".

"It has been terrible. The charges were absurd then, they remain absurd now," Valya Chervenyashka's daughter Antoaneta Uzunova told the Associated Press.

Human Rights Watch said it had received credible allegations that at least four of the health workers had been tortured with electricity.

Ten Libyan security officials were found not guilty of torturing the health workers in a Libyan court earlier this year.

No payment

Bulgaria has refused a Libyan demand for payment to secure the release of the nurses, who have been held since 1999.

Bulgaria believes that to pay any money would be to accept the women's guilt - something it has refused to do.

The case is before an independent court - we are awaiting the court's ruling
Libyan Prime Minister
Shukri Ghanem
However, it has hinted at offering humanitarian assistance to the children in an attempt to resolve the situation.

The nurses and a Palestinian doctor were detained following the outbreak at a hospital in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Of roughly 400 children affected, about 50 have since died.

The Libyan government has faced intense pressure from Europe and the US to free the nurses, amid accusations they were wrongly convicted.

Experts, including Luc Montagnier, a co-discoverer of the virus, say the Aids epidemic broke out because of poor hygiene at the Benghazi hospital where the incident took place.

They also say the infection spread before the nurses' arrival at the hospital.

Despite the US and others condemning the convictions, Tripoli has so far refused to bow to pressure.

Libya's prime minister last week described the case as "a legal problem which has nothing to do with politics".

"The case is before an independent court. We are awaiting the court's ruling," AFP news agency quoted Shukri Ghanem as saying.

Bulgaria shuns Libyan cash call
18 Aug 05 |  Africa

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