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Mixed world reaction to death penalty for Hussein

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WACO, Texas (CNN) -- President Bush Sunday said the trial that led to the conviction and death sentence of Saddam Hussein is "a major achievement for Iraq's young democracy."

Hussein was ousted from power following the U.S.-led military invasion in 2003. A five-judge panel sentenced him to death by hanging Sunday after he was convicted for the brutal 1982 crackdown on the Shiite town of Dujail.

Two other defendants were also given the death sentence.

"Saddam Hussein's trial is a milestone in the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law," said Bush, speaking on the tarmac of Waco's airport before heading to Nebraska for a campaign event.

Bush noted that through the appeals process, Hussein "will continue to receive the due process and legal rights that he denied to the Iraqi people."

While Democrats and Republicans uniformly praised Sunday's verdict, some Democrats took the opportunity to emphasize the verdict will not resolve the current chaos in Iraq.

In his brief statement, Bush said "Iraq has a lot of work ahead as it builds its society that delivers equal justice and protects all its citizens, yet history will record today's judgment as an important achievement on the path to a free and just and unified society."

Earlier, White House spokesman Tony Snow said suggestions that Iraqi judges timed the verdict to coincide with Tuesday's midterm elections in the United States were "preposterous."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised "the Tribunal's professional and impartial deliberations."

"Today's decision is a hopeful reminder to all Iraqis that the rule of law can triumph over the rule of fear and that the peaceful pursuit of justice is preferable to the pursuit of vengeance," she said.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad swiftly issued a statement after the court judgments were rendered, praising the judgment and the Iraqi legal system.

"A former dictator feared by millions, who killed his own citizens without mercy or justice, who waged wars against neighboring countries, has been brought to trial in his own country - held accountable in a court of law, with ordinary citizens bearing witness," he said.

Death penalty opposition

Many European nations praised the guilty verdict, although some took exception to capital punishment, which has been abolished by nearly all European nations.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said her country -- the second-most prevalent and powerful nation in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq -- "welcomes" the sentence of the five-judge panel against Hussein and the other defendants, who "faced justice and have been held accountable for their crimes."

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said, "This decision belongs to the Iraqi people. In the climate of violence Iraq is going through, I hope this decision will not bring any new tension and that Iraqis from all sides will act accordingly."

However, he noted that France and the European Union "have always supported" the "universal ban" of the death penalty.

"We need, along with our European partners, to make Baghdad authorities aware of our position."

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said, "Saddam Hussein like any other citizen and political leader must answer for his actions, for what he might have done during his time in government."

Terry Davis, secretary general of the Council of Europe, opposed Hussein's execution, saying it would be "futile and wrong" to execute Hussein, whom he called a "ruthless dictator" who "must pay for his crimes."

"What Iraqi people need is justice not retribution. A country ravaged by violence and death does not need more violence; and especially not a state orchestrated execution. Saddam Hussein is a criminal and should not be allowed to become a martyr," said Davis.

The council, which represents 46 European countries, was formed in 1949 and promotes unity on the continent.

Amnesty International, the humanitarian watchdog group, deplored the death sentences and criticized the proceeding.

They cited political interference, poor security for lawyers and witnesses, denial of access to legal council, and various complaints by the defense team about the proceedings.

"This trial should have been a major contribution towards establishing justice and the rule of law in Iraq, and in ensuring truth and accountability for the massive human rights violations perpetrated by Saddam Hussein's rule," said Malcolm Smart, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program.

"In practice, it has been a shabby affair, marred by serious flaws that call into question the capacity of the tribunal, as currently established, to administer justice fairly, in conformity with international standards."


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Iraqi men celebrate the guilty verdict against former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein Sunday in Baghdad.

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