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Bulgarian Nurses Freed

by DoDo Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 03:35:21 AM EST

Eight years ago, after 438 children and 20 mothers have been infected with AIDS in a Libyan hospital, five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor were put on trial and repeatedly sentenced to death on the accusation of having done it on purpose. Later scientific evidence pointed to the impossibility of the accusation, but the seven were at first good scapegoats for health (and later law) authorities, while a good part of public opinion, including victims' families, saw a Western conspiracy.

But after Lybia's normalisation of relations with the West, the case became a liability for the Khaddafi regime, and even though some in the EU saw economic relations as an overriding 'cause', pressure was stepped up, and bargaining for a solution began behind the scenes. Today morning, it was over: the six landed on a French government plane in Bulgaria.


The You Are Not Alone campaign (also see our page linked from the ribbon below the site symbol) pressed the case in Bulgaria and the EU, including the EP. Behind the scenes, the government of the freshly EU member country got the German EU presidency involved in pressing the diplomatic case.

Foreign minster Frank-Walter Steinmeier could employ earlier ties with Khaddafi's son and heir: the latter helped during a South Asian hostage crisis a few years ago. But negotiations were difficult, at one point, the Libyan diplomats declared the Palestinian doctor no part of the deal, so the Bulgarian government granted him Bulgarian citizenship upon the in sistence of the German foreign minister.

There were some shots across the bow by diplomatic bunglers, and not just Dubya intervening. New French President Sarkozy saw a golden opportunity for grandstanding, asent his wife to Lybia (only resulting in increased Libyan demands), and got to send the plane at the end.

Meanwhile in Libya, first there were a series of retrials, then police officers lost their libel cases over the nurses' accusation of extracting false confessions with torture. Then, based on EU-Libyan government and Bulgaria-victims' families negotiations, there was a deal that Bulgaria pays $1 million for each of the victims' families.

Paying the money was a tricky construction, involving payments even by the Lybian government itself (quoting the SPIEGEL article):

At the core of the agreement was the creation of a so-called Benghazi International Fund, which would be used to compensate the parents of the children who had become infected. According to Islamic law, murder can be expiated with blood money if the relatives of the victim agree to forgive the killer.

Bulgaria was prepared to donate the first 44 million ($60.7 million), albeit indirectly. Sofia agreed to forgive Libyan debts for an old weapons deal and the Libyan national bank instead transferred the money to the fund.

A further 74 million came straight from the Libyan government and smaller sums were donated by around a dozen other countries. The EU offered 9.5 million, though only for specific uses such as laboratory equipment for the hospital in Benghazi, the clinic's pharmacy and the training of personnel.

Earlier with Khaddafi's approval, the Libyan High Court then commuted the death sentences to life in prison. And this morning, the six could board a plane for Bulgaria, where they will be pardoned.

So, even if the six weren't declared innocent and hospital managers weren't sentenced instead, some heavy use of soft power resolved this case, and part of the money is to be put to good use.

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I see gradinski chai just put up a diary, too.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 03:36:39 AM EST
DoDo, Let's use your diary for comments and updates. It's more thorough.
by gradinski chai on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 03:45:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
DoDo has referred to a Der Speigel article that was not quite so positive about Sarkozy's intervention.

Interestingly, CNN anchorperson Ralitsa Vassileva (also a Bulgarian) commented on the fact that there has been criticism of Sarkozy taking advantage of the situation.

Vassileva was particularly positive in her comments toward the EU and Commissioner Benita Ferrero Waldner.

by gradinski chai on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 03:50:54 AM EST
Just a couple of comments on the national coverage:

  1. The European Union and Commissioner Benita Ferrero Waldner appear to be getting credit for the release. President and Madame Sarkozy are also getting credit.

  2. One of the nurses was briefly interviewed on national TV. Of course she is overwhelmed at present. However, she went out of her way to talk about average Libyans being good people who are concerned with everyday concerns like people everywhere. I did not catch her comments on the government, but they were rather brief. Perhaps a Bulgarian member of EuroTrib heard and understood her words.

  3. This is also being seen as good for the Bulgarian state (evidence that things are working...uhmmm...ahem...)and Bulgaria in the EU.
by gradinski chai on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 03:59:11 AM EST
From a Reuters wire in Le Monde :


Nicolas Sarkozy a défendu le rôle de son épouse Cécilia dans les tractations qui ont abouti à la libération des cinq infirmières bulgares et du médecin palestinien détenus depuis huit ans en Libye.

"Cécilia a fait un travail tout à fait remarquable", a déclaré le président de la République lors d'une conférence de presse improvisée à l'Elysée.

Cécilia Sarkozy, le secrétaire général de l'Elysée, Claude Guéant, et la commissaire européenne aux Relations extérieures, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, ont ramené mardi à Sofia les infirmières et le médecin dans un avion de la République française.

Nicolas Sarkozy defended the role of his wife Cecilia in the negotiations that led to the release of the five Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor held for the past eight years in Libya.

"Cecilia did a remarkable job," said the president during an ad hoc press conference at the Elysée.

Cecilia Sarkozy, the general secretary of the Elysée, Claude Guéant, and the European Commissioner for External Affairs Benita Ferrero-Waldner, brought back to Sofia Tuesday the nurses and the doctor in a plane belonging to the French Republic.

<...> En 46 heures de présence sur le sol libyen, lors de ces deux voyages, Cécilia Sarkozy a rencontré "longuement" une fois le numéro un libyen, Mouammar Kadhafi, et pu s'entretenir avec lui à plusieurs autres reprises, a précisé le chef de l'Etat.

<...>

"Le détail des choses, elle-même ne souhaite pas s'y attarder et elle ne fera sur le sujet aucune déclaration", a cependant averti le chef de l'Etat.

"Ça a été très difficile", a seulement confié à France 2, à l'aéroport de Sofia, Cécilia Sarkozy, qui a dit ne pas avoir dormi "depuis 45 heures".

C'est la première fois qu'un président français envoie ainsi son épouse en mission quasi diplomatique et aussi délicate à l'étranger, ce qui a suscité des critiques dans l'opposition.

<...>In 46 hours in Libya during two trips, Cecilia Sarkozy had "long" meetings with the Libyan number one, Moammar Khadhafi, and was able to hold talks with him on several occasions, noted the head of State.

<...>

"She herself doesn't wish to waste time on all the details of this, and she will make no statement on the topic," the chief of State cautioned.

"It was very difficult," was Cecilia Sarkozy only comment to France 2 at Sofia airport,  where she said she had not slept "for 45 hours".

This is the first time a French president has sent his wife on a quasi-diplomatic and so delicate an assignment abroad, which drew fire from the opposition.

Here is Sarkozy's press-conference response to critics (from the same Reuters dispatch):


"Il s'agissait de femmes, il s'agissait d'un problème humanitaire et j'ai pensé que Cécilia pouvait mener une action utile", a-t-il dit. "Ce qu'elle a fait avec beaucoup de courage et beaucoup de sincérité, beaucoup d'humanité et beaucoup de brio, en comprenant tout de suite qu'une des clefs était dans la capacité que nous pouvions avoir à prendre toutes les douleurs en considération, celle des infirmières, bien sûr, mais aussi celle des 50 familles qui avaient perdu un enfant. Avec la sensibilité qui est la sienne, elle l'avait parfaitement perçu."

"Un dossier qui durait depuis huit ans et demi sans trouver de solution n'est pas exactement une affaire classique, qu'on peut traiter de façon classique", a ajouté Nicolas Sarkozy.

Il s'en est pris à ses détracteurs qui étaient ministres au début de l'affaire en 1999, comme Pierre Moscovici : "S'ils avaient tant de bonnes idées, il ne fallait surtout pas qu'il se gênent pour la résoudre, cette affaire."

"On a résolu un problème, point. Il n'y a pas à théoriser sur une nouvelle organisation de la diplomatie française, le statut de l'épouse du chef de l'Etat", a-t-il souligné.

Il a cité le témoignage d'une des infirmières bulgares, qu'il avait eue le matin au téléphone après sa libération : "Elle m'a dit, je suis la femme la plus heureuse du monde. Elle ne m'a pas dit quelle est le statut de votre épouse, comment ça se passe avec Bernard Kouchner, est-ce que vous avez tenu informé François Fillon ?"

"This concerned women, it was a humanitarian problem, and I thought Cecilia could carry out a useful operation," he said. "Which she did brilliantly, with a lot of courage and sincerity, a great deal of humanity, by understanding immediately that one of the keys lay in our capacity to take all the pain into account, that of the nurses, of course, but also that of the 50 families that had lost a child. With the sensitivity which is proper to her, she perceived that perfectly."

"An affair that has lasted eight and a half years without solution is not exactly a classic case, that one can handle in a classic way," added Nicolas Sarkozy.

He attacked his critics who were ministers at the beginning of the affair in 1999, like Pierre Moscovici: "If they had so many bright ideas, they shouldn't have been shy about fixing this problem."

"We solved a problem, full stop. There's no reason to theorize about a new organisation of French diplomacy, or the situation of the chief of State's wife," he emphasized.

He cited the testimony of one of the Bulgarian nurses, with whom he spoke on the phone this morning after her release: "She told me she was the happiest woman in the world. She didn't say what is your wife's status, how are you getting on with Bernard Kouchner, did you keep François Fillon updated?"

A brief comment:

  1. Sarkozy is obviously grandstanding, crediting France, himself, and his brilliant, perceptive, courageous etc spouse, with the release of the prisoners;
  2. There's no question in his account of the affair being ripe for solution as Kadhafi sees more to be gained by ending it than continuing to use the prisoners as hostages - no, no one got it right in the past but Sarko has settled in in a few days;
  3. Kouchner the great humanitarian specialist must be getting his first full dose of what awaits him;
  4. There doesn't seem much limit to the aggressivity of Sarkozy when criticised, nor to the vulgarity he's willing to stoop to (see final sentence).
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 10:13:50 AM EST
The PS should hand out translations of the SPIEGEL article...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 11:45:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sweet memories of Reagan and the Iran hostages....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 04:35:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's an old ploy of Chirac's too. French hostages released after long captivity in Lebanon in 1988 between the two rounds of the presidential election, after probable (but strenuously denied) payment of a ransom.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 05:07:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Press reports that France and EU paid 460 mln dollars for release of sentenced medical workers. Is it true? You mention payments but on much smaller scale.
by FarEasterner on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 12:23:32 PM EST
No, I reported the same scale: $1 million per victim, that's $460 million altogether.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 12:56:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Funny how not it becomes "France and the EU", BTW. Whereas the biggest contributor was the Lybian government itself, followed by Bulgaria, and I strongly suspect Germany in third place.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 12:57:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, the way it is being reported here is that the Lybian contributions are actually money that was owed to the Bulgarian government for various goods from way back in the Warsaw Pact days.
by gradinski chai on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 01:13:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, this trick was played with Bulgaria's part, see te part I quoted in the diary.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 01:55:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
these articles are throwing up another aspect - which I haven't read anywhere else (all in German) Especially this article states, that the amount would be almost identical to what  Libya had promised to pay for the Lockerbie victims -

also :
Zunächst hatte Saif Gaddafi von einem Erlass der libyschen Schulden durch Bulgarien, die Slowakei, Kroatien und die Tschechische Republik gesprochen.




Dafür gab es von den Regierungen weder ein eindeutiges Dementi noch eine Bestätigung. Später behauptete die Gaddafi-Stiftung, die Gelder stammten aus dem von der EU unterstützten Hilfsfonds. Doch das wies EU-Außenkommissarin Ferrero-Waldner mit den Worten zurück: Die Entschädigung komme ,,von der Gaddafi-Stiftung, es ist libysches Geld". In Tripolis wurde daher darüber spekuliert, dass die Stiftung in Vorleistung auf einen Schuldenerlass getreten ist, den sie noch erhofft.
But the governments provided neither a clear denial or a confirmation. Later on the Gaddafi Foundation maintained that the funds originated from the relief fund supported by the European Union. But the EU foreing relations commissioner Ferrero Waldner rejected the claim with the words: The remuneration comes, from the Gaddafi Foundation, it is Libyan money ". In Tripoli it is being speculated that the Foundation advanced the payment in the hope that there will be debt relief

this all sounds so complicated...

by PeWi on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 07:59:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by PeWi on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 08:00:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bulgarian President Purvanov just gave a national address. It was really classy, and I am impressed.

He spoke of the need to remember the real tragedy of the infected children.

He thanked everyone...the EU, Commissioner Benita Ferrero Waldner, Barroso, Sarkozy, the Brits, Americans, Russians, Greeks, EU partners, and so on.

He acknowledged that mistakes had probably been made in how the whole eight-year affair (three different governments during that time) was handled, but that he would not judge it. The government needed to learn from these mistakes.

He went on to talk about how this shows that the governmental institutions are committed to working for Bulgarians and again how the EU partners helped bring this about.

My comments...Bulgarians were already among the most enthusiastic EU supporters (see the recent Eurobarometer). This is likely to even increase that.

Also, apparently behind the scenes the Emir of Qatar was instrumental in getting the final deal signed. This is now being widely reported in the Bulgarian press.  

by gradinski chai on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 01:23:54 PM EST
Could you write an in-depth diary on the Parvanov case, BTW? Please?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 01:56:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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