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Libya (/ˈlɪbiə/ (About this sound listen); Arabic: ليبيا‎,[dubious ] Italian: Libia) is a country in North Africa, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south and Algeria and Tunisia to the west. The sovereign state is made of three historical regions: Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica. With an area of almost 1.8 million square kilometres (700,000 sq mi), Libya is the fourth largest country in Africa, and is the 16th largest country in the world. Libya has the 10th-largest proven oil reserves of any country in the world. The largest city and capital, Tripoli, is located in western Libya and contains over one million of Libya's six million people. The second-largest city is Benghazi, which is located in eastern Libya.

Libya has been inhabited by Berbers since the late Bronze Age. The Phoenicians established trading posts in western Libya, and ancient Greek colonists established city-states in eastern Libya. Libya was variously ruled by Carthaginians, Persians, Egyptians and Greeks before becoming a part of the Roman Empire. Libya was an early centre of Christianity. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the area of Libya was mostly occupied by the Vandals until the 7th century, when invasions brought Islam to the region. In the 16th century, the Spanish Empire and the Knights of St John occupied Tripoli, until Ottoman rule began in 1551. Libya was involved in the Barbary Wars of the 18th and 19th centuries. Ottoman rule continued until the Italian occupation of Libya resulted in the temporary Italian Libya colony from 1911 to 1943. During the Second World War, Libya was an important area of warfare in the North African Campaign. The Italian population then went into decline.

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The HIV trial in Libya (or Bulgarian nurses affair) concerns the trials, appeals and eventual release of six foreign medical workers charged with conspiring to deliberately infect over 400 children with HIV in 1998, causing an epidemic at El-Fatih Children's Hospital in Benghazi. The defendants were a Palestinian medical intern and five Bulgarian nurses (often termed "medics"). They were first sentenced to death, then had their case remanded by Libya's highest court, and were sentenced to death again, a penalty which was upheld by Libya's highest court in early July, 2007. The Six then had their sentences commuted to life in prison by a Libyan government panel. They were released following a deal reached with European Union representatives on humanitarian issues (the EU did not condone the guilty verdict in Libya against the Six). On July 24, 2007, the five medics and the doctor were extradited to Bulgaria, where their sentences were commuted by the Bulgarian President and they were freed. Libya has since complained about the releases (although, as of July 31, not to the EU), and the issue remains ongoing. Furthermore, a controversy has arisen concerning the terms of release, which allegedly include an arms trade as well as a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement signed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in July 2007. Both the French president and the Bulgarian president have denied that the two deals were related to the liberation of the Six, although this has been alleged by a variety of sources, including Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the leader of Libya.

The epidemic at El-Fatih and the subsequent trials were highly politicized and controversial. The medics say that they were forced to confess under torture and that they are innocent. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi later confirmed that Libyan investigators tortured the medics with electric shocks and threatened to target their families in order to extract the confessions, and confirmed that some of the children had been infected with HIV before the medics arrived in Libya. He said that the guilty verdict of the Libyan courts had been based on "conflicting reports", and said that "There is negligence, there is a disaster that took place, there is a tragedy, but it was not deliberate." (Read more...)

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Leptis Magna market place April 2004.jpg
Credit: Robert Bamler
The ancient marketplace of Leptis Magna, Libya.

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Did you know

... that the US first attacked Libya in 1815, then again in 1981, 1986, 1989 and now in 2011?

... that in 1963 the women of Libya were given the right to vote?

... that Libya became a member of the League of Arab States in 1953?

... that Tripoli is Libya's largest city?

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