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Will Libya shoot Bulgarian nurses?

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Boris Kaimakov) - The Libyan Supreme Court of Appeal has upheld the death sentences of six foreign medical workers convicted of intentionally infecting children with HIV, causing a sense of despair at the injustice of the verdict and horror that it may actually be carried out.

The medical workers were arrested in 1999 on charges of intentionally infecting more than 400 children with the HIV virus. Libya was in the grip of an epidemic, and children whom the workers had come into contact with were dying one after another. As of today, 50 of them are dead. The families of the other infected children are fearful that they will be next.

Libyan leaders, who were furious as well as nervous, not only detained the medics but also accused them of infecting the children on the orders of foreign secret services. The Libyan tragedy and the anguish of parents have evoked sympathy for the affected families and a desire to help. But the world medical community and ordinary citizens are protesting against the Libyan government's incitement of mass panic and conspiracy theories to cover up their own failure to deal with the country's AIDS outbreak. People in Russia remember well the notorious trials of killer doctors in the middle of the last century, when prominent medical professionals faced similar accusations. They were charged with giving the wrong treatment to famous cultural and government figures on the instructions of Western intelligence services.

The situation in Libya is not black and white. The nurses retracted the confessions they had made at the trial on the grounds that they were extracted under torture. Those who tortured them were also tried, but they were acquitted.

The tragedy is spilling over into Europe, primarily Bulgaria, where the trial is perceived not as an act of justice but a way to satisfy the dark instincts of the furious mob. Having conducted an inquiry at the Al-Fatih Children's Hospital in Benghazi, where the foreigners worked, independent experts have concluded that children had started to become infected even before the arrival of the Bulgarian nurses. At worst, they could be guilty of neglect, but not deliberate malpractice.

American experts have come to the conclusion that the charges were concocted in order to deflect anger from the inept Libyan health service. Children were infected because of neglect and bad sanitary conditions.

There is an obvious parallel between the Soviet trials and what is happening now in Libya. They were both made possible by the same mechanisms of a totalitarian state. Instead of revealing the real reasons for the tragedy, it is being reduced to a conspiracy deserving of the death penalty. When the HIV epidemic broke out in Al-Fatih because of reused syringes and droppers, Libya's isolated leaders immediately said it was part of a plot against a "freedom-loving country."

Over the past few years, the European Union and Bulgaria have done a lot to help the victims in Libya. Brussels is funding the reconstruction of a children's hospital for HIV-infected children; Italy has invited them to go there for medical treatment. The wife of French President Nicholas Sarkozy made an unprecedented foray into international affairs recently by visiting the five Bulgarian nurses condemned to death in Libya. She went to Tripoli, where she met twice with the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar Gaddafi, and his daughter, who is in charge of women's issues.

Russia is also playing an active role in helping the accused medical workers. The Russian Foreign Ministry has published a statement asking the Libyan leaders to take a humane approach to the problem. Russian medical workers have expressed solidarity with their imprisoned colleagues.

Experts believe that Libya is deliberately dramatizing the situation to extract as many concessions as possible. In exchange for a pardon, Tripoli would like to join a treaty on partnership between the European Union and North African countries. This would finally put an end to Libya's isolation and give a major boost to its development.

There is a chance that they will be pardoned. The convicted are pinning their last hopes on the Supreme Judicial Council of Libya - the last body that can commute the death sentences. Russia and Bulgaria are hoping that it will do so.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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