Europe unites in its condemnation of McVeigh execution

 

Europeans condemned the US execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh today as a cruel, barbaric act on the eve of US President George W Bush's first official European visit.

European opposition to the death penalty outweighed abhorrence at McVeigh's crime when he was put to death by lethal injection at an Indiana prison for a 1995 blast that gutted a federal office building and killed 168 people.

Critics of capital punishment called the execution a vengeful, morally unjustifiable way of making McVeigh pay for his crime.

By executing the first federal death row prisoner in nearly four decades, the USA has allowed vengeance to triumph over justice and distanced itself yet further from the aspirations of the international community, Amnesty International said.

America's penchant for the death penalty puts it ethically at odds with its traditional European allies, which have all abolished it. The last person executed in the European Union was killed by guillotine in France in 1977.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ms Anna Lindh, speaking on behalf of the EU, said the 15 member states regretted the continued US application of capital punishment and would express their concerns to Mr Bush at a summit this week in Gothenburg, Sweden.

In Berlin, the German government said it opposed McVeigh's execution on fundamental principle.

But other European critics used harsher words.

"Timothy McVeigh was a cold-blooded murderer. He will not be missed. But the way he died was sad, pathetic and wrong", said Lord Russell-Johnston, president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council ofEurope, a 43-member human rights watchdog based in Strasbourg in eastern France.

"It is high time the United States rethought its attitude to the death penalty and aligned itsposition with the great majority of the free and democratic world", he said.

Controversy surrounding McVeigh's execution could cast a shadow over Mr Bush's five-nation tour, which was due to begin tomorrow morning with the start of a one-day visit to Spain.

About 200 anti-death penalty activists gathered outside the US embassy tonight in a silent, candle-lit vigil.

The United States and Japan are the only rich, industrial nations that still put convicted criminals to death.

McVeigh's execution had particular resonance in Spain.

Mr Joaquin Martinez, a 30-year-old Spaniard who was convicted and then cleared of double murder in the United States, returned home yesterday after three years on Florida's death row.

His ordeal sparked outrage in Spain, still haunted by memories of thousands of summary executions carried out during the 1939-1975 dictatorship of Generalisimo Francisco Franco.

Unlike the Martinez case, few Europeans doubted McVeigh's guilt in the deadliest bombing ever carried out on US soil.

But many slammed the U.S. government for continuing to use a form of punishment they say is biased against the poor and non-whites, leaves no room for judicial error and, in a case like McVeigh's, risks making a martyr of a mass murderer.

Pope John Paul had appealed in vain for Mr Bush to spare McVeigh's life. Mr Bush said today that justice had been served.

Reuters