As Iraqi authorities prepared for the execution of Saddam Hussein, public opinion in several European countries appears to back the death sentence for the former Iraqi leader. Still, the European Union insisted its official position remains firmly opposed to capital punishment. Teri Schultz has more from Brussels.

A newly released public opinion poll indicates many Europeans, especially those in Britain, France and Germany, support the execution of Saddam Hussein, despite the official EU position against the death penalty.

Capital punishment is banned in the European Union and Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, speaking in his capacity as the current EU president, emphasized Friday that it is not a pick-and-choose policy.

"The European Union is always opposed to the use of the death penalty and it should not be applied in this case either, whatever the nature of the crimes," said Erkki Tuomioja. "We are not doubting the crimes that have been committed."

Despite the official EU opposition to capital punishment, the statement had a somewhat different tone than the comments issued when the former Iraqi leader was sentenced in November.

At that time the presidency rebuked the imposition of the death penalty but also recalled it had long condemned the former dictator's "systematic, widespread and extremely grave violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law."

Asked if the EU had issued made any recent appeals for Iraqi authorities to spare the former leader's life, a Finnish foreign ministry spokesperson said no last minute phone calls had been made by the presidency to try to influence Hussein's fate.