'Encouraging' sign on HIV nurses, but no deal yet

UPDATED: 10:03, June 22, 2007

An international fund and families of HIV-infected children in Libya have not yet agreed a financial package for them, a lawyer for foreign medics sentenced to death in the case said on Thursday.

However, the lawyer and European Union officials said there were grounds for optimism that an accord could be reached soon which could in turn allow the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor found guilty of infecting the children.

"We are optimistic but we remain extremely cautious ... because there is no deal yet, because nothing is certain about the verdict that will possibly be given on July 11, as it could also be postponed," lawyer Stephane Zerbib said.

Zerbib was referring to a scheduled July ruling by Libya's Supreme Court on an appeal by the medics, convicted in December of infecting 426 children in a trial that has slowed OPEC member Libya's efforts to end its international isolation.

Families of the foreign medics, who have been sentenced to death for infecting the children with the virus that causes AIDS, urged European Union leaders in Brussels yesterday to help clinch a deal to end their "nightmare".

"If we are here today, it is to save the lives of our mothers, to see if the EU can help," said Gergana Ouzounova, 25, daughter of 52-year-old nurse Valia Cherveniashka.

A spokeswoman for EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who has been deeply involved in European efforts to produce an agreement with the families of the children, said: "Talks are ongoing. The signs are encouraging."

Sofia says it will not compensate the families, arguing that would be an admission of guilt. But it has set up a solidarity fund along with the EU and the United States to provide medical aid and financial support to the children and their relatives.

The association representing the families is seeking around $14 million for each family.

Relatives of the Palestinian doctor and four of the five nurses came to Brussels hoping to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, chairing a summit of EU leaders yesterday and today, and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

"We hope that very soon all this nightmare will end," said Ahmed Jumaa, 65, father of the doctor Ashraf Alhajouj, who has lived most of his life in Libya and says the police fabricated the charges.

Asked what she would ask EU leaders, Tzvetanka Siropoulo, step-sister of 48-year-old nurse Valentina Siropoulo, said she wanted the wealthy 27-nation bloc to commit itself to a deadline for a deal and help the HIV-infected children.

Most refused to comment on the on-going talks. But Ivailo, the son of 54-year-old nurse Snezhana Dimitrova, whose health is the most fragile, said: "I do not expect there will be a deal."

A spokesman for the families of the infected children has said any financial deal agreed in coming days would not affect the Libyan Supreme Court's decision on July 11.

The court is widely expected to confirm the death sentences, a move that would leave the fate of the medics in the hands of Libya's High Judicial Council, a government-led body which has the power to commute sentences.

Source: China Daily/agencies


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