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Bulgarians pray
for release of medics

Bulgarians pray
for release of medics

The spiritual leader of Bulgaria's Orthodox Christians on Saturday called for a ''just verdict'' in the case of six medics sentenced to death in Libya for allegedly infecting about 400 children with HIV.

Thousands of people, some holding banners reading ''You are not alone,'' attended a public prayer service led by Patriarch Maxim in front of a cathedral in Bulgaria's capital, Sofia. Among those in the crowd were relatives of the five Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor accused in the case.

''We pray for the motherly mercy of the Holy Virgin for the innocent Bulgarian nurses, enduring severe suffering on foreign soil, to receive soonest a just verdict and to return home to their beloved ones,'' Patriarch Maxim said.

The medics were condemned to death in a December retrial amid international concern over the fairness of Libyan justice. A death sentence also was handed down in 2004. The United States and the European Union have expressed shock and disappointment with the verdicts and have called on Libya to free the nurses and the doctor.

The sentences were based on the nurses' alleged confessions, but some of the nurses have said they were tortured into admitting guilt. Expert witnesses at the trial testified that HIV was rampant at the Benghazi hospital where the children were infected before the Bulgarians began working there in the late 1990s.

The six medical workers have been in jail since their arrest in February 1999. They are awaiting the appeal of their convictions and death sentences before Libya's supreme court. (Veselin Toshkov, AP)

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