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Tears and jubiliation in Sofia

Last updated on: July 25, 2007 12:46 IST

The six Bulgarians -- five nurses and one doctor -- who were held for eight years in a Libyan prison, and sentenced to death, joyously celebrate their freedom, amidst tears and hugs, as they arrive in Sofia, Bulgaria's capital city, on July 24 at 0951 am local time.

The six were convicted for deliberately infecting 438 Libyan children with AIDS in the course of their work at a hospital in Benghazi, Libya's second largest city. At the time Libyan president Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi had said the medics were part of a combined Mossad and American plot to infect Libyan children with AIDS.

French president Nicholas Sarkozy, who had made the release of these medics a priority when he took office in May, along with his wife Cecilia, put in special efforts to have this issue resolved. The families of the 438 children were promised $1 million compensation each, if they dropped charges against the nurses and Libya was promised better relations with Europe. European Union's external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner (pictured) has also been credited for her skillful negotiations that brought about their release. She, as well as Cecilia Sarkozy, travelled to Tripoli several times and met the jailed workers and pleaded for their release.

The six medics were brought home on the French presidential plane accompanied by Cecilia Sarkozy and Ferrero-Waldner.

Right: (from left to right) Benita Ferrero-Waldner with Zdravko Georgiev and Cecilia Sarkozy. Georgiev is the husband of Kristiana Valcheva, one of the nurses held for eight years. Georgiev too was held for five year. But a Libyan court acquitted Georgiev in 2004 when it sentenced the nurses to death, but he was not been allowed to leave the country.

Left: Bulgarian nurse Kristiana Valcheva is carried jubialantly by her relatives

Photographs: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images