Friday, July 27, 2007

Sarkozy under fire for nuclear deal to secure nurses’ release

Sarkozy under fire for nuclear deal to secure nurses’ release

David Charter, Europe Correspondent, and Adam Sage in Paris

Nicolas Sarkozy faced a barrage of criticism yesterday for agreeing to build a nuclear reactor in Libya as concern grew over the price extracted by Colonel Gaddafi for the release of five Bulgarian nurses this week.
Opponents said that the French President had effectively exchanged the nurses and their colleague, a Palestinian doctor, for nuclear technology.
The outcome was also criticised in Libya, where officials said that the Bulgarian President’s pardoning of the nurses had violated the deal. Families of the children whom the medics were convicted of infecting with HIV demanded that Interpol should rearrest them. President Sarkozy responded that Arab states should be trusted with nuclear technology or the West risked a breakdown of relations so serious that there could be a “war of civilisations”. He denied a link between the deal to build a nuclear-powered desalination plant and the handing over of the group to his wife, Cécilia, on Tuesday.
They were freed after an agreement to pay $1 million (£500,000) to each of the families of 438 HIV-infected children. There was also an undertaking to revive Libya’s relations with the EU, including market access for Libyan goods, assistance with border management and scholarships for Libyan students in the EU.
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The European Commission and Bulgarian Government were forced to deny yesterday that a ransom had been paid for the release of the six, who claimed that they had been tortured. Noël Mamère, a Green Party MP, said of President Sarkozy: “He is running grave risks for the planet. And he is running the risk of turning France into the supplier of military nuclear capacity to some absolutely unacceptable regimes.”
Greenpeace said that the deal posed “an enormous problem of nuclear proliferation and is consistent with the French policy of irresponsibly exporting its nuclear technology”.
Claude Guéant, President Sarkozy’s chief of staff, said that the nuclear co-operation deal meant that “a country that respects international rules can obtain civilian nuclear energy”. The President added: “Nuclear power is the energy of the future. If we do not give the energy of the future to the countries of the southern Mediterranean, how will they develop themselves? And if they do not develop, how will we fight terrorism and fanaticism?”
A spokeswoman for the European Commission said that it had already provided €2.5 million (£1.7 million) of training and support to the hospital in Benghazi at the centre of the case and for the stricken children. A further €10 million of assistance would be provided over the next five years. She said that no direct payments had been made to the Libyan Government.
Sergei Stanishev, the Bulgarian Prime Minister, said that his country may write off the $54 million debt owed to it by Libya. He added that this would be a humanitarian gesture, not “paying ransom or admitting guilt”.
Bulgaria’s pardon of the medical workers as soon as they arrived on Tuesday brought an angry denunciation from the Libyan organisation representing the children’s families. “We deeply condemn and are deeply disappointed at the absurdity and disrespect shown by the Bulgarian presidential pardon,” it said. It called on Interpol to have police arrest the group “so that they can spend the rest of their sentences in prison”.
Boris Velchev, the Bulgarian Prosecutor-General, defended the pardon, saying: “When a person is transferred in his own country to serve the sentence imposed in another, it is the laws of the home country that are applied to him from then on.” Ashraf Alhajouj, 38, the Palestinian doctor, said yesterday that he and the nurses had been forced into confessing to infecting the children with HIV deliberately. “We were treated like animals. We were tortured in an awful way, with electricity. We were beaten, deprived of sleep,” he said. “We cannot forget. Only God can forgive. I will never forgive.”

Cecilia Sarkozy, left, met today with Aicha Gaddafi, daughter of the Libyan leader

(Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images)

Cecilia Sarkozy, left, met today with Aicha Gaddafi, daughter of the Libyan leader
Philippe Naughton

Libya demanded the complete normalisation of diplomatic relations with the European Union today as part of a deal for the release of six Bulgarian medics convicted of infecting Libyan children with the HIV virus, diplomatic sources said today.
The last-minute demand was made in overnight talks between Libyan officials and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's External Relations Commissioner who arrived in Tripoli last night hoping to secure an end to the medics' eight-year ordeal.
One source said that the Libyan Foreign Ministry had demanded the “complete standardisation of Libya’s relations with the countries of the European Union at all levels”.
Ms Ferrero-Waldner was accompanied to Tripoli by France's First Lady, Cécilia Sarkzoy, who is making her second trip to Libya this month.
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Press reports have suggested that Mrs Sarkozy is hoping to take the medics - five nurses and a Palestinian doctor, who also has Bulgarian nationality - on a French plane to Sofia.
But her husband, Nicolas Sarkozy, refused to comment today on reports that he might join her in Libya to drive the negotiations forward, although he said of the talks: "What I know is that it’s very tough."
On her first visit to Libya, on July 12th, Mrs Sarkozy had a 90-minute meeting with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi before meeting the nurses, who have been imprisoned since 1999. Today she met Aicha Gaddafi, the Libyan leader's 28-year-old daughter.
The six medics were convicted in May 2004 of deliberately infecting 438 children with HIV-tainted blood at a hospital in the Mediterranean city of Benghazi - although they now say that their confessions were made under duress. The highest judicial body in Libya last week commuted their death sentences to life terms in prison.
Libya’s latest demands come after a compensation package was hammered out giving the families of each HIV victim about $1 million, according to the Gaddafi Foundation. Sofia is seeking the extradition of the six under a prisoner exchange agreement it signed with Tripoli in 1984, and the expectation had been that the agreement would witness their rapid transfer to Bulgaria.
Relations between the EU and Libya have warmed considerably since 2003, when Tripoli decided to renounce ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and moved to settle issues concerning the Lockerbie affair. UN sanctions against Libya were lifted in September 2003, but Tripoli remains excluded from economic benefits extended by the EU to neighbouring states.
David Charter, Europe Correspondent of The Times, said from Brussels that any demands made by Libya would be discussed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers later today.
"It all seems to be part of a carefully choreographed series of events following the lifting of the death penalty last week - although with Libya you can never be sure how long it will all take," Charter said.
Mrs Sarkozy's part is less clear. "She is simply the spouse of an important EU leader who, we are told, has travelled to the EU with the full approval of the EU, although she appears to be freelancing," Charter added. "If she can bring them back, however, it would be an extraordinary ending to what has already been an extraordinary story."
In Paris a statement issued by the president’s office said that Mr Sarkozy spoke several times with Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, by telephone over the weekend in a bid to have the six freed and “repatriated immediately". Mr Sarkozy promised to work to free the medics during his campaign for the presidency earlier this year.
A European diplomatic source said that the French President had promised to help modernise the Benghazi hospital where the nurses and the doctor worked in exchange for their repatriation to Bulgaria.
The Bulgarian Foreign Minister, Ivailo Kalfin, said today that he was hopeful that the mission to Libya would yield a deal.
“We are at the stage now where the decision is clearly political,” Mr Kalfin said as he arrived in Brussels for the ministerial meeting. “I hope there will be good enough will from the Libyan side today.”

French President's wife in front line in negotiations
Publié le 26 juillet 2007
Actualisé le 26 juillet 2007 : 11h51
Commentary by Bruno Jeudy
Is Cecilia Sarkozy the new Lady Di? Her involvement in the Bulgarian nurses case has already earned her international fame, which has turned France's first lady into a media star, like the late princess, the champion of great humanitarian causes in the 1990s. Following her first visit to Libya, 12 July, Cecilia Sarkozy already made every front page in the international press. The image of the president's wife with the Bulgarian nurses should be seen all over the world, if she achieves their extradition.
Nicolas Sarkozy, who very much wanted a "real role" for his wife, has succeeded beyond his dreams. "Basically, my sole concern is Cecilia," he told journalists 14 July. In fact the head of state will not have had to wait long to define his wife's role. In less than two weeks, with these two surprise visits to Tripoli, Cecilia Sarkozy has spectacularly earned her stripes as her husband's "unofficial" envoy on the diplomatic and humanitarian scene.
Of course her sensational appearance on the scene initially irritated European governments. But, with his talent for persuasion, the head of state soon convinced European Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner of the virtues of France's intervention. So much so that following a conversation at the Elysee [president's office] Thursday she said: "we are agreed on everything."
Three days later the European diplomat accompanied Cecilia Sarkozy and Claude Gueant [secretary general of the presidency] on the French Republic's airliner. This was a way for the Sarkozy couple to silence criticisms about scoring a diplomatic success in which France has performed only one role among many.
What do these criticisms and complaints matter! With their perfect media skills, Nicolas and Cecilia soon realized the political benefit that they could derive from this operation. By pushing his wife into the front line in complex international negotiations, the head of state has inaugurated a diplomacy of the third kind, both personal and family-oriented. This method is not without risks, but it could prove very beneficial. If it succeeds, the president will kill two birds with one stone. He will extend his honeymoon with the public and enable his wife to assert her own personality vis-a-vis the French people, having hitherto remained somewhat enigmatic to the public.
All assets
The French Constitution accords no role or status to the head of state's spouse, and the first lady's involvement in such a burning issue is unprecedented in France. Internationally, spouses' political and diplomatic discretion is the rule, which a few exceptions, as in the case of Hillary Clinton.
But Cecelia Sarkozy has always given to understand that she would not confine herself to a role as a "hat stand." And she will not be "Mrs Small Change," like Bernadette Chirac. Neither will she venture into the field of parallel diplomacy, like Danielle Miterrand, who regularly caused embarrassment to the Quai d'Orsay [Foreign Ministry] - and her husband - with her remarks about Cuba or the Kurds.
"She knows how to organize dinners and to wear Dior and Saint-Laurent dresses, but she does not want to confine herself to that. The president has always said that he would use all the assets around him. Cecelia is one such asset. She is a considerable negotiator," according to Isabelle Balkany, deputy for Hauts de Seine and a close friend of the couple. Following her first visit to Tripoli, she took "this issue very much to heart," according to Elysee sources. "She acted as a complement to diplomats' action, using her own resources," according to one friend.
Yesterday, Secretary of State Roger Karoutchi, a close associate of Cecelia, offered the following explanation: "this is not a traditional diplomatic role; she is not negotiating the [missile] shield or missiles with Russia. She wants to take part in human, humanitarian, social action."
Will Cecilia fly next to the aid of Ingrid Betancourt, will we see her in Darfur? "We must not exaggerate. She will not do just anything," Isabelle Balkany said. "The most important things for her are her children and her family. But she wants to do something useful," according to Cecilia's confidante, who has recently received numerous text messages from France's first lady.

(Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)
On their arrival in Sofia today the freed medics applaud Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU External Relations Commissioner who accompanied them from Tripoli
Andy Heath

Timeline: HIV medics' ordeal

1999 Nineteen Bulgarian healthcare workers detained in Benghazi. Accused of conspiring with foreign security services to infect 438 children with HIV, Libya’s first recorded cases. Thirteen are later freed

2000 Trial begins of six remaining Bulgarians and a Palestinian doctor similarly accused

2001 All defendants plead not guilty; allege use of torture

2002 Defendants acquitted of conspiracy; still face charges of causing infection
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2003 Aids expert Luc Montagnier testifies that Benghazi Aids outbreak predates arrival of the foreign medics

2004 Five Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian found guilty, sentenced to be shot. Bulgarian doctor acquitted. Defendants appeal

2005 Supreme Court orders retrial

2006 All six again handed death sentences

July 2007 Gaddafi International Foundation for Charity Associations - chaired by the son of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader - announces undisclosed settlement between healthcare workers and affected families. Court later commutes death sentences, saying that families dropped demands for executions. Bulgaria requests they return home to serve sentences

July 22 EU commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Cécilia Sarkozy, wife of the French resident, arrive in Libya

July 24 All six medics released and return to Bulgaria

Libya: Bribery wins, for the moment
Jul 26th 2007
From The Economist print edition

Libya hopes to come in from the cold after freeing the Bulgarian nurses

THE final outcome of the long-running saga of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor nonsensically convicted of deliberately infecting some 400 Libyan children with HIV/AIDS but suddenly freed this week and flown to Bulgaria is bizarre. It reeks of bribery—yet may herald Libya's faster opening to the wider world.
Last December, after two trials that followed the nurses' original arrest in 1999, the six were again sentenced to death, though a bevy of distinguished AIDS scientists testified that the cause of the infections, which began even before the nurses had arrived in Libya, was almost certainly poor hygiene and the re-use of unsterilised needles in the hospital in the coastal city of Benghazi. The death penalty was commuted earlier this month to life in prison after a mysterious payment of $460m was said to have been paid via an international fund to the victims' families. No one seems yet to know exactly who has paid what.
In the saga's final act, France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his sometimes estranged wife, Cécilia, took starring roles. The president had promised during his election campaign to make the jailed medics a priority of his foreign policy. Most unusually, earlier this month, he twice sent his wife and his chief of staff to Libya's capital, Tripoli, to lobby the country's leader, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, for their freedom. The nurses and the doctor later flew to Bulgaria in Mr Sarkozy's presidential jet.
Officials of the European Union, which has long been immersed in the affair, have privately grumbled that Mr Sarkozy has stolen their glory. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's external-relations commissioner who had earlier brokered a deal on medical aid and reopening political ties with Libya, sounded taken aback by the late intervention of Mr Sarkozy's wife. The French president, quick to capitalise on his wife's success, flew to Libya the very day after the nurses' release, and promptly signed a French-Libyan agreement to co-operate on nuclear energy.
In the long run, Mrs Ferrero-Waldner's deal matters more. The Europeans all officially deny that ransom money was paid for the medics' release. But assistance is now expected to flow into Libya. The European Commission's president, José Manuel Barroso, suggests that a “normalisation of relations” with the EU is possible. Libya's foreign minister, Abdel Rahman Shalqam, says the deal will allow for “full co-operation and partnership”. Libya is expected to get EU aid to rehabilitate some hospitals, to encourage Libya to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into Europe, to help protect Libyan archaeological sites, to improve education and so on.
In recent speeches, Mr Qaddafi has said Libya cannot resist the tide of globalisation; there could be no going back to the “era of hostility and confrontation” when the West ostracised him for sponsoring terrorism. He has even promised that the day will come when his people no longer need him as their leader. Yet so far, despite the hopes raised three years ago after his decision to give up a secret nuclear-weapons programme, when investors started to flood in amid talk of deeper reforms, there has been no political loosening.
Mr Qaddafi has also complained that the United States and Britain have cheated Libya by not rewarding it properly for its nuclear about-turn and its decision to accept liability for blowing up an American airliner over Lockerbie in 1988. Following the medics' freedom, expect new calls for the release of Ali Megrahi, the Libyan agent sentenced to life in prison by a Scottish court in 2001 for the Lockerbie bombing. But it is far from sure, even if he were freed, that the Libyan people themselves would be granted greater economic or political freedoms.
Copyright © 2007 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.

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