Originally created 12/15/03

World leaders and activists welcome news of Saddam's capture



LONDON -- As celebratory gunfire erupted in Baghdad, America's allies welcomed Saddam Hussein's capture, saying it brought a long-awaited end to the career of a brutal dictator and could mark the beginning of peace in Iraq.

The U.S. military announced that a bearded Saddam was detained without resistance in a hole in a farmhouse cellar near his hometown of Tikrit, ending one of the most intense manhunts in history.

"This is very good news for the people of Iraq," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said. "It removes the shadow that has been hanging over them for too long of the nightmare of a return to the Saddam regime."

Blair, who braved intense domestic opposition to support the U.S.-led war that ousted Saddam in April, indicated that Saddam could be "tried in Iraqi courts for his crimes against the Iraqi people."

Iraq's interim government has established a special tribunal to try Saddam and other members of his regime for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Blair added that Saddam's capture could mark the beginning of better times in Iraq and give the coalition the chance to "take a step forward in Iraq."

"We should try now to unite the whole of Iraq in rebuilding the country and offering it a new future," he said.

The Spanish government, another supporter of the war, also hailed the news.

"It is a great day for humankind," said Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio. "The horrible shadow of this bloody dictator is going to vanish."

France, which has had a rocky relationship with the United States since it led the opposition to the war, said the capture would help stabilize the country and lead to its sovereignty.

"It's a major event that should strongly contribute to democracy and stability in Iraq and allow the Iraqis to master their destiny in a sovereign Iraq," French President Jacques Chirac said in a statement.

Japan, Australia and other countries also were quick to applaud the news of Saddam's capture, as a video showing a bearded Saddam being examined by a doctor was broadcast on news channels.

"We're absolutely thrilled that Saddam Hussein has been captured," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in a statement. "And his capture has the potential to change the situation on the ground."

News of Saddam's capture also reverberated among the 500 delegates and other dignitaries at the opening session of Afghanistan's historic constitutional council, being held in Kabul.

Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said the arrest would help improve security in Afghanistan by dampening the ability of militant groups to recruit fighters here.

"What happens in Iraq is also something to do with the situation in Afghanistan. Since the war in Iraq, the terrorist organizations have tried to open a new front in Afghanistan, so any failure of terrorism in Iraq is going to effect the situation in Afghanistan," Jalali told The Associated Press.

In San Diego, Alan Zangana, a 48-year-old Kurd who fled Iraq in 1981, said the phone at his Chula Vista home started ringing early Sunday with people sharing the reports that Saddam had been captured.

"I have been waiting for this for the last 35 years," said Zangana, director of Kurdish Human Rights Watch in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon.

Saddam instituted a policy of genocide against the Kurds and Zangana said oppression in his oil-rich hometown of Kirkuk was severe.

"Nobody is going to be happy today like the Kurds," Zangana said. "He killed a lot of us."

The tribunal would cover crimes committed from July 17, 1968 - the day Saddam's Baath Party came to power - until May 1, 2003 - the day President Bush declared major hostilities over, said Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, the current president of the Iraqi Governing Council. Saddam became president in 1979 but wielded vast influence starting from the early 1970s.