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Libyan court upholds death sentences

July 11, 2007 By Declan Butler This article courtesy of Nature News.

Hopes remain for deal to free medics accused over HIV outbreak.

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Libya's Supreme Court in Tripoli this morning rejected the ultimate legal appeal of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian medic convicted of deliberately injecting hundreds of children with HIV in 1998.

A decision on the six's fate will be made on Monday 16 July by the Supreme Council for Judicial Authority. This political body spans Libya's executive and judiciary authorities, and can annul or commute the death sentences handed down by the court.

The verdict is "disappointing", says Emmanuel Altit, a member of the medic's defence team, speaking from Tripoli by phone, "but it is just one step in the process, and there remain encouraging signs that a settlement may yet be reached". The six were not present at this morning's five-minute hearing.

Last night, the Gaddafi Foundation for Development, a non-governmental charity headed by Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, announced that it had reached a settlement with the families of the infected children that would pave the way for a resolution of the crisis.

The deal hinges on aid to provide life-long treatment for the infected children and support for their families. The Supreme Council can take this agreement into account in reaching its decision.

The European Union has led negotiations with Libya to free the medics. In a statement, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Commisioner for external affairs, said she "deeply regretted" the Supreme Court verdict. "I firmly hope that clemency will be granted to the medical staff," she said.

Scientists say that the infections blamed on the medics resulted from an accidential hospital outbreak.


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