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first lady tells of negotiations to free medics imprisoned
in Libya

first lady tells of negotiations to free medics imprisoned
in Libya

France's first lady, Cecilia Sarkozy, said she ''negotiated relentlessly'' with Libyan officials for 50 hours in the run-up to the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who were held behind bars for eight years.

''I arrived [in Libya] as a woman, as a mother, without necessarily thinking a lot about the complexities of international relations, but with the firm intention of saving lives,'' Sarkozy was quoted as telling L'Est Republicain newspaper.

Political circles have been abuzz for weeks with questions about the size of the role the first lady played in winning the high-profile release of the six medics from a Libyan prison in June.

Sarkozy, in her first substantive comments on the case, said she spoke with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in English without an interpreter, and that she believed he realized ''he could make a humane gesture that could improve his image.''

President Nicolas Sarkozy, who dispatched his wife to Libya twice to work on the case, has insisted she accomplished ''remarkable work'' there. Cecilia Sarkozy accompanied the medics to Bulgaria on June 24 aboard a French presidential plane.

But France's opposition Socialists have painted the first lady's trips there as mere spectacle. Pierre Moscovici, a Socialist lawmaker, accused the French leader of profiting from the labor of European officials who had worked on the case long before Sarkozy's election in May.

In an interview released Tuesday, Moscovici renewed his calls for Cecilia Sarkozy to appear before a parliamentary commission to investigate the matter.

''What she said to the press she can, in my opinion, repeat in perhaps a more detailed and precise way,'' he is quoted as saying in La Croix daily. ''If the wife of the head of state responded to journalists' questions, there is no reason why she shouldn't respond to lawmakers' questions.''

Libya had accused the six medics of deliberately infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV; 50 of the children died. The medics, jailed since 1999, were initially sentenced to death, but later had their sentence commuted to life imprisonment. They deny the charge and say their confessions were extracted under torture. (AP)

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