Libya drops foreign medics' death sentences in child HIV case

( RIA Novosti ) - Libya lifted death sentences against five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor convicted of infecting children with HIV, following a large compensation payout to the victims' families from an international fund.

The six medics have been imprisoned in the North African country since 1999 over the infection of over 400 children with the deadly virus in the Mediterranean town of Benghazi, despite intense international pressure to free them.

The Libyan High Judicial Council's ruling commuted the foreign nationals' sentences to life in prison, but according to the Associated Press, Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalqam suggested that deportation to Bulgaria was a possibility.

Bulgaria, the European Union and the United States insisted that the defendants were being used as scapegoats to draw attention from the poor state of Libya's health service.

Foreign experts, backed up by international scientific reports, testified in court that the infections began before the medics' arrival, and were caused by poor hygiene in the Benghazi hospital.

Compensation totaling $1 million for each infected child has been paid to the children's families. Fifty-six of the children have died. The cash was raised by an international fund financed mainly by the EU and the U.S.

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