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Leaders of Germany, France Among Those Hailing Saddam Hussein Capture - 2003-12-15

European governments, including those that opposed the war in Iraq, are hailing the capture of Saddam Hussein and expressing confidence that it will help stabilize the war-torn country.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who defied overwhelming anti-war sentiment at home to back U.S. policy in Iraq, says the capture of Saddam Hussein removes the main obstacle to peace and democracy in Iraq. Mr. Aznar says the moment has now arrived for Saddam Hussein to pay for his crimes.

Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini, whose country also backed the war, said Saddam Hussein's capture marks a turning point in the Iraqi conflict and delivers a decisive blow against Iraqi guerrillas still battling coalition forces.

French President Jacques Chirac, perhaps the war's strongest European opponent, was said to be delighted over news of Saddam Hussein's arrest. He was quoted as saying the arrest will allow Iraqis to recover control of their destiny and speed the way to a sovereign Iraq.

France has consistently called for U.S.-led forces in Iraq to quickly hand power over to Iraqis. After initially resisting that idea, Washington has decided to move to a transfer of authority by June of next year.

Another European war opponent, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, wrote a letter to U.S. President George Bush, congratulating him on Saddam Hussein's capture and expressing hope that the arrest of the former dictator will lead to increased stability in postwar Iraq.

That was also the line taken by Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who allied himself with France and Germany in the anti-war axis. The Belgian leader said the arrest should improve internal security and the stabilization of Iraq.

International officials are also responding to Sunday's capture. Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, hailed what he called a very important day and expressed his confidence that it will accelerate Iraq's return to stability.

And retiring NATO Secretary General George Robertson said through his spokesman that the capture of Saddam Hussein was excellent news. Mr. Robertson said he hopes it will speed up reconstruction efforts in Iraq and lessen terrorist acts against coalition forces and the Iraqi people themselves.