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Bulgarian Nurses Freed

Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor originally sentenced to death by a Libyan court were transferred to Bulgaria. The six had been imprisoned since 1999. Libyan officials accused them of deliberately infecting more than four-hundred children in a Libyan hospital with HIV/AIDS, despite scientific evidence showing the children were infected due to poor hygiene practices at the hospital. After the July 17th decision of the Libyan Higher Judicial Council to commute their death sentences to life in prison, all six were pardoned by Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov upon their arrival in Bulgaria.

After the release of the medical personnel, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the E-U could now move to normalize trade and political ties with Libya. "We hope to go further normalizing our relations with Libya," he said, "our relations with Libya were in a large extent blocked by the non-settlement of this medics issue." The E-U also pledged medical assistance for the infected children through the private Benghazi International Fund. The United States has contributed three-hundred-thousand dollars to a separate AIDS program to provide assistance to the sick children and their families.

The infection of so many Libyan children with the HIV/AIDS virus is tragic. International medical experts have regularly said that the Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor did not transmit the virus to these children at the hospital in Benghazi. During the trial, a leading French AIDS researcher testified that poor hygiene at the hospital likely led to the contamination of the blood used in transfusions. He said the contamination dated to 1997 -- two years before the Bulgarians were began working at the hospital.

The United States welcomes the release of the Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor. In a written statement, U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria John Beryle said, "We share the joy and relief of the Bulgarian people at the release of the nurses. The past eight years have been difficult, and we are pleased this ordeal has come to an end."

The release of the nurses had been a high priority for the U.S., said Mr. Beryle. The U.S. actively worked for a number of years with the E-U and the Bulgarian government to bring the nurses home. In addition, the U.S. continues its efforts to ease the suffering of the other innocent victims in this case -- the Libyan children infected with HIV/AIDS.