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France-Libya arms deal raises eyebrows over nurses' release

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France-Libya arms deal raises eyebrows over nurses' release

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An arms deal between Libya and a French company has added to speculation over exactly how French President Nicolas Sarkozy helped secure the release of five Bulgarian nurses from a Libyan jail. Sarkozy insists there is no link between weapons sales and the prisoners’ freedom.

Sources in Libya have now confirmed claims by the son of leader Colonel Kaddafi that Tripoli is to buy anti-tank missiles and communication equipment from a company owned by French-German group EADS. The deal is said to be worth nearly 300 million euros.

A French government spokesman did not deny the sale, saying that any commercial deal struck between a French company and Libya should be welcomed. Sarkozy visited Libya last week, just a day after his wife had travelled to Bulgaria with the freed medics.

Any arms deal with Libya would be the first since a 10-year UN embargo was lifted in 2003. French opposition leader Francois Hollande has asked for total transparency concerning how the imprisoned nurses were released. The five Bulgarians had been convicted and sentenced to death along with a Palestinian doctor for deliberately infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV.

They, the international community and medical experts have always maintained their innocence.