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Col Mu'amar al-Qadhafi

Update No: 026 - (01/01/06)

After the Sanctions, and the Weapons of Mass Destruction, it all comes down to an 'Aids Trial'
Libya has been carefully rebuilding its international reputation since agreeing to disband its weapons of mass destruction program just two years ago. In spite of having made no political change whatsoever, Qadhafi has hosted world leaders such as Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair. He is frequently visited by US senators, who speak with praise about Libya and its prospects for US companies doing business there. Indeed, in 2005 US companies won the lion's share of the oil exploration rights on auction, as some of the original oil companies drilling in Libya such as Occidental made its much anticipated return. Libya has had no political progress, however, and the economy, for all the talk of diversification and privatisation remains driven almost entirely by crude oil exports. Of course, thanks to the oil prices of 2005, Libya's oil earned it very high profits, but production is still far from the 3 billion bpd's targeted for 2010. Nevertheless, for all the diplomatic progress and success, Libya has not managed to convince the international community that it is serious about establishing more transparent relations with the rest of the world. This is because of the ongoing trial of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor, charged and sentenced to death over the poisoning of 40 children in a Benghazi hospital in 1999. The six medics have appealed their sentence. They maintain their innocence and Col. Qadhafi's own son, Seif ul Islam, said that he also recognized their innocence, blaming instead poor hygiene and lab practices for the children's deaths.
In May 2004, Libya found the five Bulgarian health workers and a Palestinian doctor guilty of having caused the death of 50 children and of infecting almost 400 others with HIV at a Benghazi hospital. The nurses were sentenced to death by a firing squad, prompting harsh reactions from Bulgaria and its allies the United States and the European Union. Indeed, Bulgaria's prospective entry into the EU in 2007, led some EU leaders to hint that an offence against Bulgaria would be dealt as an offence to the EU, which could carry significant political and economic retaliatory measures. International human rights groups say the five women were tortured into confessing. The United States and European governments, as well as the European Union (EU) also are stepping up pressure for their release. The nurses originally were charged with conspiring against the Libyan state as part of a plot sponsored by the CIA and Israel's Mossad intelligence agencies - charges later dropped. Libya has suggested the death sentences can be commuted if Bulgaria pays compensation to the families. Sofia, however, has repeatedly refused to do so, as it would mean that Bulgaria admits the guilt of the medics.
The death sentence appeal was to be delivered in January, but the Libyan leader announced that the appeal would be heard on December 25th. The news was broken by the Libyan defender of the nurses, Osman Bizanti, who explained that he has called for the new date. He based his demands on the fact that the earlier date would be better for the nurses and the Palestinian doctor. On November 15th Libya's Supreme Court postponed the hearing of the appeal of the death sentences. The new hearing was set for January 31, 2006. On that occasion, the court said the postponement was motioned by the representative of the State, which, too, is a side in this case. Also recently the Benghazi court postponed once again the legal suit against the five Bulgarian nurses brought by the family of a young Libyan HIV victim, who claim their child was killed by the Bulgarians. The new hearing will take place February 25th. The relatives demand to receive a compensation of almost US$12 million. 
Coincidentally, Qadhafi also said that that the death sentence itself might be abolished in Libya. As already hinted by Qadhafi's son, Seif ul-Islam, last October, after he suggested the medics were innocent, it now appears very unlikely that the death sentence will take effect. However, the nurses would not necessarily be freed from jail. Inasmuch as international pressure on Libya over the affair would ease, the internal one would not. There have been riots in Tripoli and Benghazi at the mere hint of some sort of deal over the nurses, and some people have demonstrated demanding the death sentence be executed. Qadhafi will have to secure some form of compensation, direct or indirect, for freeing the medics. While, Bulgaria has refused to do so directly to the relatives, because it might be construed as an admission of guilt, it has suggested donating medical facilities in honour of the dead infants. According to the Saudi daily Ashsharq al-Awsat such a deal would involve financial compensation for the infected children's families through a fund financed by the Bulgarian and Libyan governments and charities including that of Libyan leader Qadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam. 
The United States has still not set up a full diplomatic mission in Tripoli and the resolution of this case of the Bulgarian nurses, might well have been one of the obstacles to having a full relationship with Tripoli, but it was not the only one. Another potential reason had to do with a plot Libya was alleged to have made against then Crown Prince Abdallah (now King) of Saudi Arabia. Indeed, the Libyan ambassador to Saudi Arabia Muhammad Saeed al-Qashat said recently that he had returned back to resume his mission in Riyadh after one year of boycott, following the deterioration of relations between the two states. Al-Qashat explained that contacts made in the past few weeks had resulted in an agreement for the resumption of the two states' diplomatic relationship, noting that the Saudi ambassador to Libya, Muhammad al-Tasji, will return shortly to assume his mission in Tripoli. Almost a year ago, Saudi authorities asked the Libyan ambassador to leave Riyadh after withdrawing its own ambassador from Libya. In turn, Libyan authorities accused Saudi Arabia of supporting the Libyan opposition conference in London, in summer 2005, which called for the removal of Libya's leader Muammar al-Qadhafi. Having resolved the Saudi 'problem' and about to resolve the 'Bulgarian nurses' problem, Libya might well expect to obtain full diplomatic relations with the United States in 2006. 

In Oil:
Exxon returns to Libya. 
Libya's National Oil Corporation, NOC, agreed to grant ExxonMobil an exploration area covering 2.5 million acres in the Cyrenaica Basin, one of the country's largest energy fields. Although Libya is estimated to have proven oil reserves of 36 billion barrels, only a quarter of its territory has existing exploration contracts. 

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