Sat, Jul 03, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Europe divided over Iraqi death penalty, even if for Saddam

AP , PARIS

The decision to re-establish the death penalty in Iraq ahead of the war crimes trial of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein evoked a mixed reaction in Europe, recalling the split across the continent over the war that toppled the Iraqi leader.

Germany and France, two of the most vocal anti-war opponents, strongly stated their opposition -- without exception -- to the death penalty and called on Iraqi authorities to ensure Saddam a fair trial.

In Berlin, the government's top human-rights official, Claudia Roth, criticized Baghdad's move to reinstate capital punishment, which was suspended during the US occupation.

"To start out this way does not send a good signal," Roth said on Thursday. "It would have been a signal of democratic strength had they not reinstated the death penalty in Iraq."

France called on Iraqi justice officials to hold a trial that conforms to principles of international law, and the government reiterated its opposition to the execution of convicts.

The 25-member EU intends to let Iraq know of its opposition to the death penalty, said Emma Udwin, external relations spokeswoman for the European Commission.

But while capital punishment is outlawed across the continent, attitudes hardened further east among the newer EU members, where support for the war was strong.

Latvian Foreign Ministry spokesman Rets Plesums said that whatever happens to Saddam after his trial is a matter of concern for Iraq -- not the Baltic state.

"We are hoping that the new Iraqi courts will conduct the trial as fairly as possible, but I don't think our government will offer an opinion about what happens to Saddam Hussein," he said. "It's not our business."

Latvia, also a recent newcomer to NATO, ardently backed the US-led invasion and contributed more than 100 soldiers to the coalition after fighting ended last year.

Poland, another supporter of the war, offered a similar view. Poland just decided to extend its troop deployment of 2,400 soldiers in Iraq until Dec. 31.

"Our reaction is obvious. This is a sovereign decision of an independent court and of the Iraqis themselves," said Boguslaw Majewski, spokesman for Poland's Foreign Ministry.

Roman Kuzniar, a political scientist at the Warsaw University, said the list of crimes committed by Saddam "would justify the death penalty."

Poland had capital punishment before ousting the Communist government in 1989, then eliminated it in order to join the EU.

Turkey, a Muslim nation with aspirations to join the EU one day, formally ended executions as part of its bid for membership. But many Turks still feel capital punishment is justified in some cases.

"The conscience of the people will not be satisfied if he doesn't face the death penalty," said Bur-han Kuzu, a lawmaker from Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party. "If they give the death penalty to him, this decision will not disturb me."

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