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Khadafy's son admits Libya tortured imprisoned Bulgarians

CAIRO -- In an apparent attempt to show a more open face to the West, Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy's son, who is touted as a reformer, has acknowledged that Bulgarian medical workers jailed for allegedly infecting children with HIV were tortured.

The release last month of the five nurses and a doctor after nearly nine years in prison boosted Libya's ties with Europe, a key goal of the elder Khadafy.

But since their release, Dr. Ashraf al-Hazouz, a Palestinian who was granted Bulgarian citizenship, and some of the nurses have spoken frequently in the European media of the torture they underwent to force them to confess to infecting the children with the AIDS virus. They have since retracted the confessions and denied infecting the children.

With the admission, the Libyan leader's son, Seif al-Islam Khadafy, may have been trying to put the torture issue aside and burnish his own credentials as a candid promoter of change in the long-isolated nation.

"Yes, they were tortured by electricity and they were threatened that their family members would be targeted," he said in an interview with the pan-Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera, excerpts of which were aired Wednesday.

The younger Khadafy made no apology for the torture in the excerpts. In a report on the interview on Al-Jazeera's website yesterday, he boasted of progress in Libya's human rights situation, saying it was "better than the United States or any Arab country."

Hazouz accused Khadafy's son of acting out of self-interest.

"Seif al-Islam always tells only a part of the truth, manipulating the media," the doctor told The Associated Press. "I told the full truth as it is. All of us were tortured like animals. We are victims and we shall never forget it."

Snezhana Dimitrova, one of the nurses, said in an interview that she was glad Khadafy's son had acknowledged the torture.

"The fact that a Libyan, and the son of Khadafy at that, has told the truth is very gratifying and I thank him for it," she said.

Libyan officials refused to comment on the younger Khadafy's statements.

The 36-year-old Khadafy is seen by many as being groomed to succeed his father. He has risen to prominence on a reputation as a reformer, spearheading a program of economic liberalization and often serving as the country's face to the West.

"What he may be trying to do is come clean in a way on some of these issues because he knows that he and his government look foolish denying some of these things," said Ronald Bruce St John, a Libya analyst and author of six books on the country.