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Medical workers' death sentence stands

Medical workers' death sentence stands

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TRIPOLI, Libya - Libya's Supreme Court upheld Wednesday the death sentences of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor convicted of infecting more than 400 children with HIV.

But the verdict, which has caused an international outcry, could still be overturned by the country's highest judicial authority, which Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalqam said would meet on the case Monday.

The Supreme Judiciary Council, headed by the minister of justice, could approve or reject the convictions, or set lighter sentences.

"The court has accepted the appeal in principle but rejects its content. Therefore the court decided to uphold the verdict against them," Judge Fathi Dahan said.

Some families of the infected children rejoiced in front of the Supreme Court in Tripoli after the verdict.

"This is a victory for the Libyan judiciary system. We are awaiting the execution of the death sentence," said the families' lawyer Al-Monseif Khalifa.

In announcing the verdict, the judge did not mention a settlement with families of victims announced Tuesday by a foundation headed by the son of longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Salah Abdessalem, the spokesman for the Gadhafi International Foundation for Charity Associations, said the settlement was "acceptable to all parties" and would "end the crisis." The foundation is headed by Gadhafi's son, Seif al Islam, who has been active for months in trying to resolve the case of the medics.

Libyan officials close to the arrangement said it involved financial compensation for the families and that the death sentences were expected to be commuted to prison time.

"There is still a settlement," Abdessalem said after the verdict. He would not elaborate.

On Tuesday, Idriss Lagha, the head of the Association for the Families of the HIV-Infected Children, also said that a deal would be announced in a couple of days.

Often referred to as "blood money," compensation for death or suffering is a legal provision in the traditional Islamic code that is widespread in parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Some diplomats have said such compensation in this case could result in leniency for the six foreigners.

The five nurses and the Palestinian doctor, who have been jailed for the past eight years, were not in court for the appeal hearing.

They deny the accusations, saying confessions that they infected the children were extracted under torture. Defense experts and outside scientific reports have said the children were contaminated because of unhygienic conditions and HIV was rampant in the hospital before the six began working there. Fifty of the infected children have died.

Libya has been under intense international pressure to free the six medics and the case has become an obstacle in the regime's attempts to rebuild ties with the United States and Europe.

Several European leaders on Wednesday expressed disappointment over the court's ruling but said they remained hopeful the case would still be resolved.

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