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Libyan Court Postpones AIDS Verdict

December 22, 2001

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) _ A Libyan court postponed its verdict Saturday in the case of six Bulgarians and a Palestinian, all doctors and nurses, accused of injecting 393 children with HIV-contaminated blood.

It was the second time in four months the judges had postponed their verdict. They were originally due to hand down a ruling in September.

The chairman of the three-judge panel said the postponement was necessary ``to review the files of evidence further.″ The verdict would now be given on Feb. 17, he said.

One of the defense lawyers for the group criticized the move.

``The adjournment creates additional tension and has a bad effect on the health of the defendants,″ Vladimir Sheitanov told the Bulgarian news agency BTA from the Libyan capital, Tripoli. The defendants have been in custody since early 1999.

The five Bulgarian nurses, a Bulgarian doctor and a Palestinian doctor have pleaded innocent to charges of murder and conspiracy. Prosecutors charged them with giving HIV-contaminated blood to 393 children at Al-Fateh hospital in Benghazi. Twenty-three children reportedly developed AIDS and died.

If convicted, they could be condemned to death.

Nine Libyans are also on trial in the case, charged with negligence.

The long-running trial _ it began in February 1999 _ has drawn international criticism.

Bulgaria accused Libya of holding a political trial and repeatedly called for an independent team of international experts to study the case and testify. The court refused to allow expert opinion from Switzerland and France.

The rights group Amnesty International said there were ``serious irregularities″ in pretrial proceedings.

Critics charge that Libya may be trying to divert attention from horrendous conditions at state-run hospitals. Defense attorney Othman el-Bezanti told the court the infections stemmed from poor hygiene at the hospital and the reuse of syringes.

Many Bulgarian doctors and engineers work in Libya, where salaries are higher than in Bulgaria.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi was in Tripoli on Saturday, but the Bulgarian Embassy denied a report that he had come to hear the verdict.

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