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Medics' release not due to French arms deal: Bulgarian president

by Staff Writers
Sofia (AFP) Aug 13, 2007
Libya's decision to free six Bulgarian medics jailed for life over an HIV outbreak was not linked to nuclear and arms deals inked between Tripoli and Paris, Bulgarian President Georgy Parvanov was quoted as saying Monday.

"It would be a mistake to believe remarks that this... resulted from a behind-the-scenes deal linked to the economy, military connections and the weapons industry. That is a distorted view," Parvanov told Bulgarian journalists in an interview reported by the 24 tchassa daily.

"Other countries in eastern as much as in western Europe have made deals with Tripoli, but these did not particularly contribute to our cause," the president said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy traveled to Tripoli and signed a memorandum of understanding to build a Libyan nuclear reactor, a day after the six Bulgarian medics were released.

A week later, France confirmed a multi-million dollar arms deal between Libya and European aerospace giant EADS, although Sarkozy denied that France had traded the medics' freedom for arms.

Parvanov insisted in his interview that what secured the medics' release "was not an isolated act but a long and painstaking process," that accelerated under Britain's presidency of the European Union in 2005.

"That is when the EU became a spokesperson for the Bulgarian cause," Parvanov said.

He praised former British prime minister Tony Blair, who traveled to Tripoli in May, the United States and the German presidency of the EU, as well as EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, for their role in securing the medics' release.

But he also pointed to Sarkozy's efforts in brokering the release.

"This result... was achieved thanks to the exceptional courage, the character, the true leadership of France's President Sarkozy, (and) to the willpower shown during those dramatic hours by his wife, Cecilia Sarkozy," the Bulgarian president said.

"If Mr. Sarkozy had not acted at that moment, we would have had to wait I don't know how long for a solution which had, to a certain degree, already been worked out," he added.

Sarkozy is to visit Sofia "between September 12 and 15," Parvanov also said.

Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian-born doctor were released and returned to Sofia on July 24 after spending over eight years in a Libyan prison for allegedly infecting over 400 Libyan children with the HIV virus.

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