TRIPOLI, Libya, AP – The Supreme Court on Tuesday postponed to Jan. 31 its verdict on five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who had appealed against their conviction of infecting more than 400 children with the AIDS virus.
Minutes after the postponement was announced, relatives of the victims clashed with riot police outside the court, hurling stones and bottles at the security forces and journalists. The violence was apparently sparked by a police officer pushing a female protester so hard that she fell to the ground.
More than 100 relatives of the infected children had mounted a protest outside the court, holding banners calling for the death sentences on the accused to be carried out. Many parents held photographs of their children, who were infected at a children”s hospital in Benghazi.
The trial has drawn international criticism, and several European diplomats attended the session. In the clashes afterward, some relatives attacked the diplomats as they were leaving the court building. The diplomats fled inside.
In a session lasting less than five minutes, Judge Ali al-Allout said the hearing was adjourned to Jan. 31. The accused were not present.
The European Union and the United States have said the trial in the east Libyan port of Benghazi did not meet international standards of due process.
Bulgarian Justice Minister Georgi Petkanov said Monday he hoped the Supreme Court would order a retrial. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said relations with Libya hinge on the fate of Bulgarian nurses. And last month, U.S. President George W. Bush warned: "There should be no confusion in the Libyan government”s mind that those nurses ought to be not only spared … but out of prison."
During the trial last year, French Professor Luc Montagnier — the co-discoverer of HIV — testified that the infection had spread in the children”s hospital before the Bulgarians nurses began their contracts there.
International human rights groups say the five women were tortured into confessing. The London-based Amnesty International has reported detailed accounts by the women of their torture by electric shocks and beatings. Two of the nurses said they had been raped, according to Amnesty.