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French leader says U.S. should abolish death penalty

Tuesday, August 29, 2000

By Anjali Sachdeva, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In a visit here yesterday, the president of France's parliament urged the United States to abolish the death penalty.

Raymond Forni, president of the French National Assembly, held a news conference at Pittsburgh International Airport and visited with death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal at the State Correctional Institution Greene in Waynesburg.

Forni, who helped get the death penalty abolished in France in 1981, is in the United States for a conference of world parliamentary leaders in New York City.

Abu-Jamal was convicted in 1982 of killing a Philadelphia police officer and has spent the last 18 years on death row. While in prison he has written four books about life on death row and developed a large following of supporters who believe he did not receive a fair trial.

Forni said the Abu-Jamal case is well known in France, where there have been demonstrations demanding Abu-Jamal's release.

He said he was interested in meeting with Abu-Jamal because "with [him] you have the case of everyone who is sharing his lot," and added that "because of his particular intelligence [Abu-Jamal] is fighting two wars, one on his own behalf and the other for the larger issue that we are interested in."

Although he was reluctant to give his opinion on presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush, Forni said it was "undignified" that U.S. politicians choose to make the death penalty a major topic only during an election year, when it is "an obvious issue worldwide."

Bush and Gore support the death penalty.

Forni stressed that he did not want to interfere with American politics but rather to appeal to all Americans to re-examine their views on the death penalty.

The death penalty has been abolished in all European Union countries.

Forni made a special appeal to Bush, who is routinely criticized by anti-death-penalty activists for the large number of executions in Texas during his years as governor.

"I do not expect a miracle in the swaying of the opinions in the United States, but when we abolished the death penalty in 1981, 64 percent of the French population still supported the death penalty. I want to say to George W. Bush that one can be a responsible politician and also be brave."

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