LIBYA'S Supreme Court upheld death sentences yesterday against six foreign medical personnel for allegedly infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV.
But officials said they could win a reprieve by as early as next week.
Libya's Foreign Minister, Mohammed Abdel-Rahman Shalgam, said the Government-controlled High Judicial Council, which has the power to commute the sentence or even pardon the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor, will consider the case on Monday.
The European Union and Bulgarian leaders have expressed regret at the ruling, the latest twist in the highly politicised trial, but said a solution may still be reached.
There have been lengthy efforts to secure a deal with families of the children.
"The court rejects the appeals of the defendants and confirms the death penalty," judge Fathi Dhan told a five-minute hearing. The six people were not in court to hear his ruling.
They were sentenced to death in December after being convicted of infecting 426 Libyan children with the deadly virus while they worked at the children's hospital in Benghazi in the 1990s.
In jail since 1999, they say they are innocent and were tortured to make them confess. Some Western scientists say negligence and poor hospital hygiene were the real culprits and that the six were made scapegoats.
Bulgaria's President, Georgi Parvanov, said the decision was no surprise. "We expect and insist (on) a swift solution by Libya's High Judicial Council to finally complete the case," Mr Parvanov said.
The case has blocked Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's efforts to deepen links with the West after shaking off decades of isolation in 2003 when Libya scrapped a prohibited weapons program.
Hopes were raised for a deal to win their release on Tuesday evening when Libya's Gaddafi Foundation charity said it had reached an accord with the children's families that "puts an end to the crisis".
Libyan officials say the judicial council would only agree to the release of the six people if a settlement were reached in private talks between the families and the EU on funding for the children's medical care.
Behind-the-scenes talks have been taking place between the EU and the association of the families of the children on just such a possible deal — to provide a fund of tens of millions of dollars for the families to pay for the children's future care.
Libya calls the cash "compensation" — a term Bulgaria rejects as it says it implies the people are guilty.
The charity, run by a son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam, has been a central player in facilitating the talks.
The sister-in-law of one of the nurses, Tsvetanka Siropoulu, said the case was always likely to be resolved out of court. "It was clear from the very beginning that this fabricated trial will not have a judicial solution but a political one," she said.
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