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6 convicted medics leave Libya

France wins release of 5 nurses and a doctor in controversial HIV case.

July 24, 2007|From Times Wire Services

PARIS — Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor sentenced to life in prison in Libya for allegedly infecting more than 400 children with HIV flew out of Tripoli today with French First Lady Cecilia Sarkozy, France's presidential palace said.

Sarkozy's delegation arrived Sunday in Tripoli, Libya's capital, to try to negotiate the release. Its members include the European Union commissioner for foreign affairs, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and French presidential aide Claude Gueant.

The plane was heading to Bulgaria, the Elysee Palace said.

"The aircraft of the French republic has taken off from Libya bound for Sofia with the five Bulgarian nurses and the doctor of Palestinian origin on board," the French presidency said in a statement.

The medical workers, who spent more than eight years jailed in Libya, had been sentenced to death. Libya commuted the terms to life imprisonment last week after the children's families were paid millions of dollars in compensation.

Ignored in the court proceedings were several independent reports by respected international experts who had determined that the infections probably were festering before the Bulgarian team's arrival in the city of Benghazi and were caused by long-standing unsanitary practices in the hospital network. Fifty of the children have died.

The nurses maintained that they were tortured and raped to force confessions.

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