Nearly 1,000 Libyans marched and burned an American flag Sunday to protest U.S. criticism of death sentences for five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor accused of infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV. Many of the protesters in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the trial took place, are related to the infected children. Some carried HIV-positive children on their shoulders and shouted support for the court's decision. Others carried empty coffins symbolizing children who have already died of AIDS, chanting: "We trust our independent judiciary!" and "Our children's blood is not water!" "If an Arab or a Muslim did this, they would call us terrorists," said Fatma al-Obeidi, mother of an infected child. "But when a European or an American does this, they question the impartiality of our judiciary."
Western governments and human rights groups have denounced last week's verdicts and sentences, saying they were based on false confessions obtained through torture, designed to draw attention away from unsanitary practices at Libyan hospitals. Initially Libya claimed the infections were part of a conspiracy by the CIA and Israeli intelligence, but it later backed away from those allegations. Prosecutors accused the Bulgarians of intentionally infecting more than 400 children with HIV-contaminated blood as part of an experiment to find a cure for AIDS. Under Libyan law, death sentences generate an automatic appeal, and European leaders have suggested they were exerting pressure on the government to reverse the verdicts.
Libyan authorities have launched legal action against another Bulgarian doctor for alleged malpractice, the foreign ministry announced Tuesday. Anton Botev, a physician working for a hospital in M'sallata, a small town southeast of Tripoli, is being investigated for malpractice after allegedly failing to save a patient in critical condition, deputy foreign minister Gergana Gruncharova said. Another Bulgarian doctor, Petar Chervenyakov, who was in the country to testify at a separate malpractice trial, has been barred from leaving Libya, she added. Gruncharova refused to speculate on whether there was any connection between the new cases and the AIDS trial. (AP)