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10 May 2004 08:21
Libyans whose young relatives were infected with HIV/Aids at a children’s hospital in Benghazi lashed out on Sunday at United States criticism of death sentences for five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor.
About 1 000 people, mostly relatives of the victims, marched through the streets of this northern city, many carrying pictures of the infected children.
Some also carried placards, including ones saying “The blood of our children is not water,” and “Our justice is fair and above all suspicion.”
They then made their way to the Italian consulate, which represents US interests in the country, and held up images of Iraqi prisoners being abused by US soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad and burned a US flag.
Below the Iraqi images was written: “Where are the human rights?”—echoing official criticism that Washington cannot lecture others on rights amid the scandal.
The US State Department has called the Libyan court sentences “unacceptable” and said the legal and human rights of the accused had been violated numerous times since the allegations were first made five years ago.
A Benghazi court last Thursday sentenced the five medical staff to death by firing squad on charges of deliberately infecting more than 400 children by injecting them with tainted blood products.
Forty-three of the children have since died.
They were also ordered to pay one million dollars to compensate the families. All the defendants pleaded not guilty and have the right to appeal.
Two of the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor said during the trial they were tortured into making the confessions.
Their lawyers also said their clients are being used as scapegoats for inadequate sterilisation of instruments at the paediatric hospital before the medical workers arrived in 1998.
The verdicts were seen as crucial for the international standing of Libya, which has been moving to rejoin the world community since it agreed in December to disarm its weapons of mass destruction programmes.
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