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Death Sentence From Libya

DW staff (als)December 20, 2006

Libya's sentencing of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to death for allegedly spreading the AIDS virus among children has European commentators up in arms. Bulgaria has support from EU member states.

Some Libyans in Tripoli approve of Tuesday's verdictImage: AP

"The command has been carried out," according to Bonn's General-Anzeiger. "Just recently, Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi repeatedly made public demands that the five Bulgarian nurses be punished. His motives are clear: After the compensation payments running into the millions to the relatives of the 270 victims who died in the 1988 Pan Am airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, for which Libya has claimed responsibility, and for the 1986 'La Belle' disco bombing in Berlin, he needs political leverage against the West as it tries to cozy up to the North African country."

The Rennes-based French paper Oest-France commented that "it's an abominable story in which the five Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor have been tied up in Libya. It is also an absurd tale. From the beginning it has been evident that the Libyan government would try to deflect criticism of its country by turning foreigners in the country into scapegoats to carry the burden of its own failures… Yet it was the government in Tripoli which allowed the situation in its hospitals to deteriorate so badly that it prompted the AIDS epidemic. Libya wanted the death sentences from the very beginning in order to gain favor among its own population. And: in order to get more funds from the EU to care for the sick children. A horrible form of blackmail…," the paper surmised.

"Libya's sentencing of the five Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor to death was an act of cynicism," Paris' daily Liberation said. "People know that the Libyan children were infected with HIV before the foreign medical personnel arrived in the country."

Muammar Gaddafi
Libyan leader Muammar GadhafiImage: picture-alliance/dpa

London's Times took a pragmatic approach. "The West had hoped that when Libya decided to give up its mass destruction weapons program in 2003, the path was paved for a quick return to normal relations. There was hope that investments would rise and cultural exchange would be possible… This death sentence shows that the rehabilitation of Libya will occur neither quickly, nor painlessly," the paper wrote.

Switzerland's Neue Zürcher Zeitung broadened the perspective when its commentator wrote that "the European Union will likely not just consider the death sentence given to the six medics a step back, but more even so, to be a slap in the face. Since last year, the EU has been helping Libya try to get its AIDS epidemic under control through an expensive plan of action."

"A scandalous verdict, even if it will very likely not be carried out," Austria's Salzburger Nachrichten speculated. "Inner political peace was more important to Muammar Gaddafi than justice and harmony with the West. That the EU, which Bulgaria will join in January, will take a more critical approach toward Libya following this unjust verdict is unlikely. After all, the North African desert nation is one of Europe's most important oil and gas suppliers."