Vatican condemns Tariq Aziz death sentence

Vatican condemns Tariq Aziz death sentence

Aziz, now a frail 74-year-old who has been in detention since 2003, was for years the "international face" of Saddam's government.

Iraq's Supreme Court 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 Tuesday in a statement released 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 Tuesday 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. These included Italy's foreign minister Franco Frattini, who said he "...fully supports the position of Ashton”.

Amnesty International urged Iraq not to carry out the sentences Tuesday, while acknowledging the brutality of Hussein's regime.

Aziz was the only Christian in Saddam Hussein's government and served as foreign minister and deputy prime-minister.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.

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