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Holy See condemns Tariq Aziz death sentence

The Vatican has condemned the death penalty given to Tariq Aziz, a top former aide to late Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein.

world Updated: Oct 28, 2010 11:10 IST

The Vatican has condemned the death penalty given to Tariq Aziz, a top former aide to late Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein.

The 74 year old Aziz, who has been in detention since 2003, was for years the "international face" of Saddam's government and served as foreign minister as well as the deputy prime-minister

Iraq's Supreme Court on Tuesday, sentenced Aziz to death by hanging for his role in eliminating Shia religious parties during Saddam Hussein's regime.

"The Catholic Church's position on the death penalty is well known. It is hoped, therefore, that the sentence against Tariq Aziz will not be implemented," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a statement released on Wednesday by the Vatican.

Lombardi said clemency for Aziz was needed "precisely in order to favour reconciliation and the reconstruction of peace and justice in Iraq after the great sufferings the country has experienced."

Any intervention by the Vatican to save Aziz would be "through the diplomatic channels at its disposal," he stated.

European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said that Aziz's execution would be "unacceptable and the EU will seek to commute his sentence".

The Iraqi Supreme Court's ruling angered the foreign ministers of several European countries, including Italy's foreign minister Franco Frattini, who also extended his support to Ashton.

While acknowledging the brutality of Hussein's regime, Amnesty International urged Iraq not to carry out the sentence.

Iraq's president Jalal Talabani, a Kurd and its two vice-presidents, one of whom is a Sunni and the other a Shia Muslim, could overturn the death sentence against Aziz if all three agreed to to so.

In March 2009, Aziz was sentenced to 15 years in prison in connection with the 1992 executions of 42 merchants.