Libya sentences Bulgarian medics to death

Benghazi Criminal Court delivered death sentences against the six Bulgarian medics accused of deliberately infecting 426 Libyan children with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The verdicts may be appealed up to a month after the motives of the two parties in the trial are announced.

The final hearing has been continuously postponed ever since the medics were arrested, more than five years ago. Under Libya's legislation the verdict should have been announced within 30 days after the end of deliberations. The court however fixed its previous hearing on April 15 just ten days earlier. Yet the court delayed the verdicts over a sick-leave of a judge.

The court convened today just as Euro-Mediterranean foreign ministers will be meeting in Dublin. EU members need to approve Libya's membership unanimously. Commission spokesman Reijo Kemppinen said the Commission would tell Qaddafi that the bombing of the La Belle discotheque and the Bulgarian medics' case "need to be solved before full entry into the Barcelona process can take place".

Prosecutors pressed for death sentences, while the defendants plead not guilty. They even say that Libyans tortured them into making false confessions. Under Libyan legislation one faces a death sentence if found guilty of deliberate infection.

Experts' forecasts about the verdicts ranged from the gloomiest to the most optimistic scenarios.

Over the last months analysts pointed out that despite the demands for death sentences Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi might pardon the medics in an effort to make peace with the West.

A number of foreign experts are observing the trial.

A day earlier US Secretary of State Colin Powell pledged that his country would do its best to influence Libya to release the Bulgarians. Powell held a meeting Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Solomon Passy in Washington.

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