VARIOUS: French President Nicolas Sarkozy praises Europe-wide collaboration as Libya sends HIV medics home after...
- Title: VARIOUS: French President Nicolas Sarkozy praises Europe-wide collaboration as Libya sends HIV medics home after deal on aid
- Date: 24th July 2007
- Summary: SOUNDBITE (Bulgarian) BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IVAILO KALFIN SAYING: "My dear countrymen I am not an officer in the president's office, however, I can't help but make an announcement on this issue. The announcement is that our countrymen are innocent and through the use of a section of our constitution our president has issued a presidential order to pardon the nurses."
- Reuters ID: LVA1WDUT2CRQ6ZBFRZ6WA5BLLRVV
- Duration: 00:00:48
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- Topics: Crime / Law Enforcement,International Relations
- Usage Terms/Restrictions: None
- Story Text: Six foreign medics convicted of infecting Libyan children with HIV arrived in Sofia on Tuesday (July 24) after being freed by Libya under a deal with the European Union.
The release of the five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian-born doctor after eight years in captivity ends what Libya's critics called a human rights scandal and lifts a barrier to attempts by the long-isolated north African state to complete a process of normalising ties with the outside world.
The six flew home to Sofia in a French presidential jet, accompanied by EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and France's first lady, Cecilia Sarkozy.
At Sofia airport they received a tumultuous welcome as family members ran across the tarmac to hug them.
A short time after their arrival, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin issued the nurses with an official government pardon on behalf of President Georgi Parvanov.
"The announcement is that our countrymen are innocent and through the use of a section of our constitution our president has issued a presidential order to pardon the nurses," Kalfin told reporters at Sofia Airport.
The medics had always maintained their innocence and claimed that they had been tortured to confess.
Ferrero-Waldner was in Tripoli to help free the medics and flew with them to Sofia. She signed a two-page deal with Libya, laying out how ties could be boosted, and confirming the EU's offer of medical care for the infected children and a Benghazi hospital, a European source said.
Several EU member states have extensive trade ties with Libya. The EU has said resolving the dispute over the medics was a precondition for moving towards fuller ties.
In Brussels, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso welcomed the release of the nurses who were transferred to Sofia after the EU, which Bulgaria joined in January, agreed a deal with Libya on medical aid and political ties, officials said.
Last week a Libyan judicial council commuted the death sentences against the six, convicted of deliberately infecting more than 400 children at a Benghazi hospital, to life imprisonment after the victims' families received a 460 million U.S. dollar settlement.
Barroso said no extra money had been paid.
"We have not increased our financial contribution, which we have negotiated with the Libyans for a long time," Barroso told journalists.
In Paris, flanked by Prime Minister FranÃ§ois Fillon and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, French President Nicolas Sarkozy thanked all those who had worked for the release of the five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian-born doctor.
"It had been eight and a half years that these women and this man had been held against their will, that they had lived through lots of tension because they were handed down two death penalties and a life sentence, and it was time that their worries were over," Sarkozy said.
Sarkozy echoed the sentiments expressed by Jose Manuel Barroso, stressing that neither France nor the EU had paid anything towards the 460 million U.S. dollar settlement awarded to the victim's families.
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- Embargoed:8th August 2007 13:00