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Vatican, EU Oppose Execution Of Tariq Aziz

Tariq Aziz, a former key member of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, surrendered to U.S. forces in April, 2003, days after the fall of Baghdad.

The Roman Catholic Church has come out against the death sentence that has been handed down to Tariq Aziz, who served as foreign minister and deputy prime minister under former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

The Iraqi High Tribunal on October 26 sentenced Aziz to death by hanging for the persecution of Islamic parties, including murder and crimes against humanity, during Saddam's rule.

In Rome, the Vatican's spokesman, the Reverend Federico Lombardi, said the Vatican would lobby Iraqi authorities to prevent the execution of Aziz, who is a Christian and met with the late Pope John Paul shortly before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Lombardi said commuting the sentence would encourage reconciliation and the rebuilding of peace and justice in Iraq.

The European Union and the human rights group Amnesty International have also called for Aziz not to be executed.

No date has been set for the hanging, and Aziz's lawyer has 30 days to appeal.

Last year, Aziz was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his part in the killings of dozens of merchants in 1992, and to a further seven years for his role in the forced displacement of Kurds from northern Iraq during Saddam's rule.

Aziz turned himself in to U.S. forces in April, 2003, days after the fall of Baghdad.

compiled from agency reports