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Fresh fears and questions Violence looms, glare on trial

Nov. 5 (AP): In a world sharply divided on Iraq since the US-led war began in 2003, Saddam Hussein’s death sentence unleashed fears of fresh violence, European condemnation of capital punishment and new questions about the fairness of the tribunal that ordered him to hang.

Underscoring the fault lines that split the international community and widened the divide between Muslims and Christians, Islamic leaders warned that the verdict could inflame those who revile the US — undermining US policy in the volatile West Asia and inspiring terrorists to strike.

Critics accused US President George W. Bush of deliberately arranging the timing of the sentence, handed down two days before pivotal mid-term elections in which Democrats are fighting to regain control of the US Congress.

“The hanging of Saddam Hussein will turn to hell for the Americans,” said Vitaya Wisethrat, a Muslim cleric in Thailand. “The Americans are about to vote in a mid-term election, so maybe Bush will use this case to tell the voters that Saddam is dead and that the Americans are safe. But actually the Americans will be in more danger with the death of Saddam.”

The White House praised the Iraqi judiciary for its independence, and denied that the Bush administration had been “scheming” to arrange a pre-election verdict.

Many European nations voiced their opposition to the death penalty, including France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden, and a leading Italian opposition figure called on the continent to press for Saddam’s sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment.

In Pakistan, the opposition religious coalition claimed that US forces have caused more deaths in Iraq in the past three-and-a-half years than Saddam did during his 23-year reign, and insisted Bush should stand trial for war crimes.

“Who will punish the Americans and their lackeys who have killed many more people than Saddam Hussein'” asked Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a senior lawmaker from the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal coalition.

Reaction was mixed across the Arab world. Some Muslims saw the sentence as divine justice, but others denounced it as a farce, maintaining that Iraq is more violent now than it was under Saddam.

Key US allies welcomed the verdict and said Saddam got what he deserved.

“I welcome that Saddam Hussein and the other defendants have faced justice and have been held to account for their crimes,” British foreign secretary Margaret Beckett said

Amnesty International questioned the fairness of the trial, and international legal experts said Saddam should be kept alive long enough to answer for other atrocities. Only then, they said, will Iraqis brutalised by years of his despotic rule see true justice done.

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