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Fugitive Iraq Vice President Rejects Sentencing In Absentia

Iraq's fugitive Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi
Iraq's fugitive Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi
Iraq's fugitive Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi has rejected a death sentence imposed upon him by an Iraqi court.

Hashimi told reporters in Ankara that the trial in absentia in which he was convicted on September 9 of organizing death squads to kill rivals and sentenced to death by hanging was a sham.

"This reaffirms once again that the case is political and not judicial, its aim is to politically sideline [me]," he said. "The decision was unjust, politicized, and has no legitimacy and I will not recognize it."

The trial, which concerned the killing of a lawyer and a brigadier general, covered the first of about 150 charges against Hashimi and his bodyguards.

Hashimi ruled out returning home until he is guaranteed security and what he described as a fair trial.

He called on Iraqis to oppose what he called Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's attempts to stir up sectarianism.

"Sons of my beloved nation, do not allow al-Maliki and those who stand behind him to make this a sectarian issue," he said. "Respond to his conspiracy and intimidation in quiet, civilized ways that show your feeling for responsibility and self-control. Whoever likes Hashimi and his goals shall not harm a citizen or foreigner on Iraqi soil."

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland cited concerns “about the potential for an increase in unhelpful rhetoric and tension on all sides.”

She also called on Iraq's leaders “to continue to try to resolve their disputes consistent with the rule of law."

Hashimi was the most senior Sunni Muslim politician in Iraq.

He fled to Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, which declined to hand him over to the federal government, and then embarked on a tour that took him to Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

He has reportedly taken refuge in Turkey since April.

An Iraqi court announced the death sentence against Hashimi on September 9, a day when violence wreaked havoc across Iraq.

On September 10, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks, which killed at least 88 people.

A spokesman for Al-Qaeda in Iraq said that the attacks came in response to "an organized torture and liquidation campaign suffered by Sunni prisoners in government jails."

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters
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