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Chirac 'rejoices' as Saddam falls

Europe's leaders look forward to Iraqis governing their own country
Europe's leaders look forward to Iraqis governing their own country

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- French President Jacques Chirac says his country is "rejoicing" in the apparent collapse of the Iraqi dictatorship.

Chirac strongly opposed a U.S-led military attack on Iraq, preferring to work through the U.N. Security Council in supporting longer weapons inspections.

But he said in a statement released by the Elysee Palace Thursday: "France, like every democracy, is rejoicing over the collapse of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, and hopes for a quick and effective end to the battle."

His foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, added: "With the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, a dark page has been turned."

The French daily newspaper La Liberation focused on the causes of the war, saying: "The successful military campaign in Iraq can only reassure the powerful U.S. that its vision of the world must be the right one.

"But its pretext for invading Iraq is... being proved wrong. For where are the weapons of mass destruction?"

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, who committed his country's troops to war, was quoted as being "delighted" at pictures showing the toppling of President Saddam Hussein's symbols of power.

"People have seen today the scales of fear falling from the people of Iraq," a Downing Street spokesman added.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who opposed the war, was reported as saying he welcomed the sights from Baghdad as it was a sign that the conflict would be over soon.

CNN's Stephanie Halasz in Berlin said: "The overwhelming feeling among Germans was one of skepticism.

"How is the future of Iraq going to square up? Are the Iraqis capable of forming a democracy? And there is concern about those Iraqis who have died or who are injured."

Russian newspapers talked about Baghdad having been "taken and plundered," while there was disbelief that the Iraqi troops and regime could have dissolved so quickly.

Chirac, Schroeder and Russia's President Vladimir Putin are to meet this weekend to discuss a post-war Iraq, with the likely emphasis on pushing for an increased U.N. role.

Italy's La Repubblica criticized the anti-war grouping, saying in an editorial: "The battle lines are drawn and this time the countries that opposed the coalition war are ready to muscle in and demand a piece of the Iraqi pie."


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