Libyan retrial of foreign medics over HIV resumes
TRIPOLI, July 4 (Reuters) The retrial of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor accused of infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV resumed today, witnesses said.
The retrial, as well as questions over Libya's human rights record, have been seen as hurdles to improved relations with the West at a time when Washington is preparing to resume full diplomatic relations with Tripoli after decades of hostility.
At the previous session on June 20, Court President Mahmoud Haouissa adjourned proceedings at the request of lead defence lawyer Othman Bizanti, who said he needed more time to gather documentary evidence. It was the third postponement since the retrial began in May.
Washington has long backed Bulgaria and the European Union in saying the medics, in jail in Libya since 1999, are innocent.
At their first trial, the six were convicted of intentionally infecting 426 Libyan children with the HIV virus when they worked in a Benghazi hospital.
In December, the supreme court overturned the convictions, which had resulted in sentences of death by firing squad.
Bulgaria and its allies say the medics were tortured to make them confess, and global AIDS experts say the outbreak at the Benghazi hospital where they worked began before they arrived.
Tripoli has suggested the nurses could go free if Bulgaria pays compensation to the children and their families, who have demanded 4.4 billion euros. Bulgaria has refused to pay, but has joined the United States, the EU and Libya in agreeing to back the creation of an aid fund.
Around 50 of the HIV-infected children have died, fuelling popular anger in Libya, but analysts say the offer of aid may give Tripoli a face-saving opportunity to free the six.
REUTERS SRS RK1910