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Britain's Tony Blair Opposes Saddam Death Penalty


British Prime Minister Tony Blair says the conviction of Saddam Hussein on charges of crimes against humanity is a stark reminder of conditions in Iraq under the former leader's regime. Mr. Blair refused to directly support the sentence, however, noting Britain's opposition to the death penalty.

Mr. Blair told reporters in London the verdict handed down against Saddam Hussein is a reminder of the "sheer terror" of that regime.

"The trial of Saddam gives us a chance to see again what the past in Iraq was - the brutality, the tyranny, the hundreds-of-thousands of people that he killed, the wars in which there were a million casualties," he said.

Mr. Blair said he viewed it as a sign of optimism that Saddam was tried by an Iraqi court for crimes he committed against his own people.

But, in a very testy exchange with one reporter, Mr. Blair refused to support the Iraqi court's sentence. Questions on the issue persisted, and the prime minister later was more direct.

"We are against the death penalty - we're against the death penalty, whether it's Saddam or anybody else," concluded Mr. Blair.

The verdict against Saddam has received mixed reactions. U.S. President Bush praised the trial as an important achievement for Iraq's young democracy.

The European Union, which opposes the death penalty, said the former Iraqi leader should not be executed. The human rights group, Amnesty International also opposes the death penalty and criticized the trial itself as not having been fair or impartial.

The death sentence for Saddam and two co-defendants was handed down Sunday. Their sentences are subject to an automatic appeal.

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