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Singapore hangs drug trafficker

Singapore, Dec. 2 (Reuters): Singapore executed an Australian drug trafficker today, despite repeated pleas from Australia’s government for clemency and quiet protests by thousands opposed to the death penalty.

Nguyen Tuong Van was hanged at the city-state’s Changi prison just before dawn. Within minutes, a large church bell in Nguyen’s home city of Melbourne tolled 25 times ' once for every year of his life.

The hanging follows weeks of campaigning by his family and civil rights groups to stop the execution. Nguyen, who was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, was described by lawyers in his final hours as resolute and ready to die.

Thousands of people gathered in Australia to pray for Nguyen while Singapore activists moved in pairs overnight to light candles at the prison. Public gatherings of more than four people require a police permit in the tightly controlled city-state.

“I hope the strongest message that comes out of this ... is to the young of Australia. Don’t have anything to do with drugs, don’t use them, don't touch them, don’t carry them, don’t traffic in them,” Australian Prime Minister John Howard said.

Some 420 people have been hanged in Singapore since 1991, mostly for drug trafficking, an Amnesty International 2004 report said. That gives the country of 4.4 million people the highest execution rate in the world relative to population.

In a tiny concession to Australia, Singapore’s prison authority allowed Nguyen to hold hands with his mother before his execution but rejected pleas to let them have a final hug. Nguyen’s twin brother Khoa and a lawyer arrived at the prison at dawn. They could not witness the execution but said they wanted to be as close as possible to him when he died.

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