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Bulgarian nurses hail ‘new evidence’ clearing them in Libya HIV scandal

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Sofia, Bulgaria | AFP | 

Five Bulgarian nurses jailed for eight years in Libya over an HIV epidemic at a children’s hospital welcomed on Saturday media reports accusing Kadhafi-era spies of deliberately infecting the infants.

The five nurses, who along with a Palestinian doctor, became known as the “Benghazi six” after they were jailed in Libya in 1999 for allegedly infecting 438 children with HIV-tainted blood at a paediatric hospital in Benghazi.

They were only released in 2007 after an intervention by Cecilia Sarkozy, the former wife of France’s ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy.

French investigative website Mediapart on Friday published documents suggesting that the children were in fact injected with tainted blood by Libyan intelligence and special forces commanders.

The testimony was found in a diary belonging to Shukri Ghanem, who served as Moamer Kadhafi’s prime minister from 2003 until 2006. The diary, which had reportedly ended up in the custody of French magistrates, suggested the infections were an act of hostility against Benghazi, a stronghold of opponents of the then-Libyan dictator.

“This news has given me wings,” said Valya Chervenyashka, one of the nurses. “Truth has prevailed nearly 10 years after we were released thanks to Cecilia,” she said.

Others said they could now seek damages.

“It’s unimaginable, it’s like a horror film,” said Valentina Siropoulo, another of the nurses.

“You see the kind of monsters under whom we spent eight-and-a-half years. It’s a miracle that we were able to leave,” she told AFP.

“The Libyan officials’ guilt has been proved. The Libyan state has assets abroad and we can be compensated,” Kristiana Valcheva said.

The nurses and their doctor colleague were jailed in 1999, tortured and twice sentenced to death.

Tripoli only agreed to commute their death sentences to life imprisonment in 2007, after which they were flown back to Bulgaria, where they were immediately pardoned.

 

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