Medics Freed in Libya HIV Scandal Arrive Home

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Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who had been imprisoned for 8 years in Libya arrived to a hero's welcome Tuesday after being released from life sentences for allegedly contaminating children with the AIDS virus.

Shortly after their arrival, Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin announced that President Georgi Parvanov had signed a decree to pardon the medics, who arrived on a plane with French first lady Cecilia Sarkozy and the EU's commissioner for foreign affairs, Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

From the airport, the medics were whisked to a government residence in the capital, where they will spend the next few days with their relatives and away from the intense media coverage of their release. For several years, ANA, as part of the international nursing community, had urged the United States government to intervene on behalf of the health care workers. Additionally, ANA had asked nurses to participate in a “call to action” in support of a joint statement by the International Council of Nurses and World Medical Association requesting Libyan authorities to drop the death sentences against the medics falsely imprisoned.

Libya had accused the six of deliberately infecting more than 400 Libyan children with the virus that causes AIDS; 50 of the children died. The medics, jailed since 1999 with most of those years passed under a death sentence, deny knowingly infecting the children and say their confessions were extracted under torture.

During the court proceedings, several independent reports by respected international experts determined that the children were infected prior to the arrival of the Bulgarian health workers in Libya. Libya’s poor health conditions were long-standing before the Bulgarian team’s arrival.

The six originally had been sentenced to death, but that was later commuted to life in prison.

The deal for the medics' release included measures to improve the medical care of children with AIDS in Libya, the French presidential palace said, without giving details.

Libya's foreign minister said that Libya and the European Union agreed to develop a "full partnership" after the release of the medical workers, with the Europeans promising a package of aid to develop Libyan hospitals and other infrastructure.