Politics | February 17, 2002, Sunday // 00:00

Associated Press

A People's Court downgraded Sunday the trial of six Bulgarian medics charged with infecting hundreds of Libyan children with AIDS, saying their case did not warrant a state security hearing.

Six Bulgarians - five nurses and a doctor - have been on trial for two years on charges of murder and conspiracy. They have pleaded innocent to injecting a total of 393 children with HIV-contaminated blood at Al-Fateh hospital in Benghazi.

"After going through the evidence, the court has found that this case has nothing to do with state security or acts of sabotage and there is no tangible evidence of such crimes," the presiding judge, Ibrahim Abu Shinaf, said Sunday.
"Therefore we decided to transfer the case to the prosecutor's office," he added.

The move means prosecutors are likely to refer the case to a criminal court, where the charges carry lighter sentences. People's courts are reserved for state security cases.

A defense counsel welcomed Sunday's decision.

"The decision is a positive step in the interest of the accused after the most important accusations, sabotage and cooperation with foreign parties, were dropped," attorney Othman el-Bezanti told The Associated Press.

An observer, Jumaa Atiqa of Libya's National Society of Human Rights, predicted the case would be heard in the Benghazi criminal court.
The court has postponed a verdict several times, saying it needed more time to review the evidence. At the last hearing, the judge said the verdict would be delivered Feb. 17.

The long-running trial, which began in February 1999, has drawn international criticism, with Bulgaria calling it a political case. The London-based rights group Amnesty International said there were "serious irregularities in ... pretrial proceedings."

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

Twenty-three of the children infected at the hospital reportedly developed AIDS and died.
In recent months, Bulgaria stepped up its diplomatic campaign for greater transparency in the trial, and Libya appeared to respond.

The son of Libya's leader Moammar Gadhafi, Seif el-Islam, promised to monitor the trial.
Early this month, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said its six nationals had been transferred from a Tripoli prison to a guarded house.

On Thursday, Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov sent a message to Moammar Gadhafi, saying he hoped the medics would be tried fairly, Bulgarian state radio reported.

Parvanov said he would maintain "active personal contacts" with Gadhafi regardless of the verdict, adding: "We shall do our best to make our relations with the Arab world more active."

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