WASHINGTON – President Bush told Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov on Thursday that he was disappointed with a Libyan court decision to reimpose the death sentences on Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor accused of infecting Libyan children with HIV.
Bush spoke with Parvanov on the phone from the White House about the Libyan decision, expressing his strong support for Bulgaria's efforts to secure the release of the medics, said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
The president also congratulated Parvanov on Bulgaria's accession as a member of the European Union, which will formally take place on Jan. 1.
Death sentences handed down Tuesday in Libya for five Bulgarian nurses accused of deliberately infecting 400 children with HIV triggered outrage Wednesday in Bulgaria. A court in Tripoli on Tuesday convicted the nurses and a Palestinian doctor and sentenced them to death, despite scientific evidence the youngsters had the virus before the medical workers arrived in Libya.
The six have been in jail since 1999 on charges that they intentionally spread the HIV virus to more than 400 children at a hospital in the city of Benghazi during a botched experiment to find a cure for AIDS. Fifty of the children died.
Bulgaria and European officials have blamed the infections on unhygienic practices at the hospital, and accuse Libya of making the accused scapegoats to cover up poor conditions. Libyan investigators told the court that infections were limited to the part of the hospital where the Bulgarian nurses had worked.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said after Tuesday's ruling that the United States was "very disappointed with the outcome" and urged the medical workers be freed and allowed to go home at the earliest possible date. The European Union said it was shocked by the verdict. Spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said the EU had not yet decided to take steps against Libya while the ruling is appealed.