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Iraqi Referendum a "Hopeful Day For Peace," Bush Says;
President also says condemned Bulgarian nurses in Libya should be released

October 17, 2005

President Bush praised Iraq's October 15 constitutional referendum for its increased turnout, including Sunni participation, and the low level of violence accompanying the vote.

Speaking October 17 at the White House with Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov, Bush said the vote was "a very hopeful day for peace," and was a sign that the Iraqi people "are strongly in favor of settling disputes in a peaceful way."

"The idea of deciding to go into a ballot box is a positive development. The idea that people are willing to try to work out their political differences through a process, a peaceful process, stands in stark contrast to the al-Qaida types and the terrorists," he said.

The president said the level of violence was lower than that during the country's January elections partly because Iraqi forces "took the fight to the enemy -- and provided security, which is really heartening to coalition forces and friends and allies."

During Bush's meeting with President Purvanov, the two discussed the Bulgarian nurses who face execution in Libya after being accused of deliberately infecting Libyan children with the AIDS virus.

According to press reports, international experts who have studied the case have testified that the children were infected with AIDS because of poor sanitary practices at the Al Fateh hospital in Benghazi, Libya, and that the nurses claimed they were tortured in the months following their arrest.

The nurses' final appeal before the Libyan Supreme Court is scheduled for November 15.

The president said both he and Purvanov regret young children getting sick, but said, "The position of the United States government is that the nurses ought to be freed."

"We have made our position known to the Libyan government," he said. "There should be no confusion in the Libyan government's mind that those nurses should not only be spared their lives but out of prison and we will continue to make that message perfectly clear."

Bush said Bulgaria is a valued U.S. partner in NATO and is "a strong example for democracy" in the Balkans, citing the country's recent parliamentary elections.

"[T]he president and I talked about Bulgaria's important role in taking the lead in helping young democracies grow in strength," he said.

President Purvanov said he values Bush's "high appreciation of Bulgaria's role as a stabilizing factor in the Balkans," and he reaffirmed Bulgaria's "commitment to remain an ally of the anti-terrorist coalition."

Purvanov also expressed his appreciation for the U.S. support for his country's membership in NATO and its forthcoming membership in the European Union, expected in January 2007.

He said he was able to raise "some concrete and specific issues" including Bulgaria's efforts to modernize its military and to be included in some Balkan energy projects.



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