Several European leaders joined the Vatican in condemning the execution of Saddam Hussein on Saturday, while other countries said it was an internal Iraqi matter.

Saddam was hanged around 6 a.m. local time Saturday in Baghdad, according to Iraqi state television.

The execution punishes "a crime with another crime," said Cardinal Renato Martino, Pope Benedict XVI's top prelate for justice issues, in an interview publishedFridaywith the Rome newspaper La Repubblica.

"The death penalty is not a natural death. And no one can give death, not even the state," Martino was quoted as saying.

Britain,a staunch U.S. ally in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, reiterated its opposition to the death penalty, but said thesentencerested onIraqi shoulders.

"We oppose the death penalty in all cases, regardless of the individual or the crime,"saidRob Tinline, spokesman for the British Foreign Office."[But] it's an Iraqi trial, with Iraqi defendants, in an Iraqi court — it's a decision for the Iraqi authorities."

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said he didn't believe the execution would help bring peace to Iraq, adding it would carry "more negative consequences than positive ones."

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said every dictator must answer for his actions — to a point.

"I will never defend the death penalty, not even for the worst politician," he said.

A matter for Iraqis to decide

Thomas Steg, spokesman for the German government, said Germany rejects the death penalty, but understands it is allowed under Iraqi law.

"There is no indication that these court proceedings in Iraq, including the appeals process, were not conducted in accordance with the legal principles there," he said.

U.S. President George W. Bush released a statement late Friday night, saying the execution comes "at the end of a difficult year" for the Iraqi people and for U.S.troops.

"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."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said due process in accordance with Iraqi law was followed leading up to the execution.

"And I believe there's something quite heroic about a country that's going through the pain and suffering that Iraq is going through, it stillextends due process to somebody who was a tyrant and a brutal suppressor and murderer of his people."

Rev. Jesse Jackson, who opposed the invasion of Iraq, said Saddam's execution will not increasethemoral authorityof the UnitedStatesin the world.

"Saddam's heinous crimes against humanity can never be diminished, but he was our ally while he was doing it," he said Friday. "Saddam as a war trophy only deepens the catastrophe to which we are indelibly linked."

Among Arab leaders, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi reacted to news of Saddam's hanging by declaring a three-day official period of mourning. Gadhafi had called the trial illegal.

On Friday, the Libyan andYemenigovernmentsmade 11th-hour appeals to spare Saddam's life.

With files from the Associated Press