First lady in Libya working on medics' release

23rd July 2007, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, July 23, 2007 (AFP) - EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and France's first lady Cecilia Sarkozy were in Libya Monday to win the release of six foreign medics, statements said Sunday.

BRUSSELS, July 23, 2007 (AFP) - EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and France's first lady Cecilia Sarkozy were in Libya Monday to win the release of six foreign medics, statements said Sunday.

"Mrs Ferrero-Waldner has been in Libya since July 22 with Mrs Cecilia Sarkozy in the framework of efforts for the release of the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor," a European Commission statement said.

"The European Commission hopes this situation, which is so painful and has continued for so long, can be resolved in a humanitarian spirit," the brief statement said.

The five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor with Bulgarian nationality were convicted in May 2004 of infecting 438 children with HIV-tainted blood at a hospital in the Mediterranean city of Benghazi.

Libya's highest judicial body on Tuesday commuted their death sentences on charges of infecting children with the virus that causes AIDS after a multi-million dollar compensation deal was hammered out with the victims' families.

Sofia is seeking the extradition of the six under a prisoner exchange agreement it signed with Tripoli in 1984, and the expectation had been that the agreement would witness their rapid transfer to Bulgaria.

Earlier Sunday, a Libyan official confirmed that France's first lady had arrived in Tripoli, together with senior presidential aide Claude Gueant, but declined to comment on the purpose of the visit.

In Paris a statement issued by the president's office said Nicolas Sarkozy spoke several times with EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso by telephone overnight Sunday in a bid to have the six freed and "repatriated immediately".

"President Sarkozy spoke several times with President Barroso by telephone tonight to discuss the timetable for an agreement to have the five Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor released and repatriated immediately," said the statement by Sakozy's spokesman David Martinon.

A European diplomatic source said the French president promised to help modernise the Benghazi hospital where the nurses and the doctor worked in exchange for their repatriation to Bulgaria.

The website of French magazine Le Point said the president's wife and Gueant were preparing the repatriation of the medical workers, who at one stage were on death row.

They had been due to meet Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi in the afternoon to arrange "the final details" of the repatriation of the workers, the weekly said.

The six would then fly to the Bulgarian capital Sofia, together with Cecilia Sarkozy and Gueant, on board a French aircraft, Le Point said.

This is the French first lady's second visit to Libya. On July 12 she and Gueant met with the six medical workers and with families of children infected. Her husband has also spoken to Kadhafi several times by telephone about the case.

The six, who have been in prison for eight years, maintain their innocence and say they confessed under duress.

Foreign health experts have cited poor hygiene as the probable cause of the epidemic in Benghazi, Libya's second city.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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