LONDON - World political and religious leaders were divided over whether Saddam Hussein's execution Saturday was a milestone toward peace or more conflict, and nearly every European country used the hanging as an opportunity to condemn the death penalty.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, like many others, tempered her criticism of the execution by saying Saddam had "now been held to account for at least some of the appalling crimes he committed against the Iraqi people."
The former Iraqi dictator was executed shortly before the start of the festival of Eid al-Adha, one of the two most important holidays in Islam.
A three-day official mourning period was announced by the government of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, which also canceled all Eid celebrations. On Friday, Gadhafi made an indirect appeal for Saddam's life, telling Al-Jazeera television that Saddam's trial was illegal and that he should be retried by an international court.
While the Vatican denounced the execution as "tragic," Kuwaitis and Iranians welcomed the death of the leader who led wars against each of their countries.
"This is the best Eid gift for humanity," said Saad bin Tafla al-Ajmi, former information minister of Kuwait, which was invaded by Iraq in 1990, setting off the Gulf War.
Iranian state TV hailed the hanging of Saddam, who waged war with Iran from 1980-88. "With the execution of Saddam, the life dossier of one of the world's most criminal dictators was closed," state-run television reported.
President Bush said Saddam was executed "after receiving a fair trial — the kind of justice he denied the victims of his brutal regime."
"Bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not end the violence in Iraq, but it is an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain and defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror," Bush said in a statement.
Many countries simultanously condemned the use of the death penalty and Saddam's crimes.
Silvio Berlusconi, who as former Italian premier backed the war and sent Italian soldiers to Iraq, described the hanging as "a step backward in Iraq's difficult road toward full democracy."
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said that he did not believe Saddam's execution would solve Iraq's problems: "I don't know whether the sentence of Saddam Hussein was a sentence or whether it was vengeance."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai appeared to criticize the timing of the execution, but said it was "the work of the Iraqi government" and would have "no effect" on Afghanistan.
In Australia, another U.S. ally in the Iraq war, Prime Minister John Howard said the execution was a sign that Iraq was trying to embrace democracy.
"I believe there is something quite heroic about a country that is going through the pain and the suffering that Iraq is going through, yet still extends due process to somebody who was a tyrant and brutal suppressor and murderer of his people," Howard told reporters.
Indian officials, who were against the execution, expressed their disappointment and worried the execution could trigger more sectarian violence.
"We hope that this unfortunate event will not affect the process of reconciliation, restoration of peace and normalcy in Iraq," External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in a statement.
Russia — whose president, Vladimir Putin, had vocally opposed the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam — expressed regret that international opposition to the execution was ignored.
"The political consequences of this step should have been taken into account," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in Moscow.
Moscow warned that Saddam's death could worsen the discord and violence in Iraq.
"The country is being plunged into violence and is essentially on the edge of large-scale civil conflict," Kamynin said. "The execution of Saddam Hussein may lead to the further aggravation of the military-political atmosphere and an increase in ethnic and religious tension."
In Pakistan, an Islamic ally in the U.S.-led war on terror, a leader of a coalition of six religious parties said Saddam had not received justice.
"We have no sympathy with Saddam Hussein, but we will also say that he did not get justice," Liaquat Baluch, a leader of the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, also known as the United Action Forum, said by phone.