Gaddafi agrees to review case of medics condemned to death

Tuesday, January 30, 2007; 11:15 AM

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Italy's prime minister said on Tuesday he had appealed to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to spare the lives of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor sentenced to death for infecting hundreds of children with HIV.

"I did this in a very heartfelt way because this is a problem that has been going on for eight years," Romano Prodi told reporters after meeting Gaddafi on Monday night during an African Union summit in Ethiopia.

He said Gaddafi had replied "that there are still problems of reparations and compensation (to the families of the victims) but he would reflect on what I told him and we would talk about it again."

The European parliament earlier this month urged EU states to review ties with Libya and step up pressure to secure the release of the six.

But the African Union said last week that Europe should let the Libyan judicial system take its course. It expressed concern that Europe was trying to threaten Tripoli.

The six were found guilty of deliberately starting an HIV outbreak at a hospital in Benghazi in eastern Libya. Over 430 children were infected and at least 50 have died.

The death sentences were condemned by Western governments and rights groups. Prodi said Italy had agreed to intercede with Gaddafi on behalf of Bulgaria as a fellow EU member.

Some Western medical experts say negligence and poor hospital hygiene were responsible for the outbreak, which they say broke out before the foreign medical staff arrived.

Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam said in a newspaper interview published on Monday that Libya would not execute the six. He told Bulgarian daily 24 Chasa that a solution would be found soon to save the six and satisfy families of the infected children, but gave no details.

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