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Sunday, 12 December, 1999, 18:55 GMT
Pope backs Colosseum campaign

The symbol of bloodshed and terror to become one of clemency

The Pope has leant his support to an international campaign against the death penalty.

On Sunday night, the world famous Colosseum amphitheatre in Rome was being illuminated from inside with golden lights.

The special lighting will be turned on again each time that a death sentence is commuted around the world or a nation abolishes capital punishment.

We want to make a positive link between the Colosseum and life
Rome Mayor Francesco Rutelli
Speaking to pilgrims gathered in St Peter's Square, the Pope - an outspoken critic of the death penalty - appealed to world leaders to support a moratorium on executions to mark the beginning of the Church's Jubilee year.

The year 2000 is a privileged occasion to promote respect for human life and dignity, the Pope said.

And he quoted from the recently published catechism of the Catholic Church, according to which the moral justification for capital punishment rarely, if ever, exists today.

The campaign The Colosseum Brightens Up Life was organised by Italian human rights organisations and anti-capital punishment lobby groups.

The Pope issued an appeal to world leaders The Pope issued an appeal to world leaders
The Roman Catholic peace group Sant' Egidio, human rights organisation Amnesty International, the city of Rome and Italian members of parliament have all thrown their weight behind the campaign.

Rome utility group Acea, which illuminates many of the Italian capital's ancient sites and monuments, is also backing the project.

The aim is to increase public awareness, using a symbol familiar to people around the world, in the hope that governments will endorse the moratorium.

The first suspended death penalty to be celebrated in Rome occurred last week by Albania.

Slaughter site

The Colosseum was where, 2,000 years ago, slaves, Christians and criminals were slaughtered before cheering crowds.

"I think all over the world the Colosseum is known as a place of death and as a place of amusements linked to death," said Rome Mayor Francesco Rutelli.

"Today we want to make a positive link between the Colosseum and life."

In the United States more than 3,000 prisoners have been condemned to death, while China carried out more than 1,000 executions in 1998.

Missed opportunity

Earlier this year, the European Union tabled a resolution at the UN General Assembly calling for a moratorium on executions, but in the end decided not to put the motion to a vote.

Former European Commissioner for human rights, Emma Bonino, who supports the Colosseum initiative, says it was a missed opportunity:

"In Europe, the abolition of capital punishment is taken for granted. It's something that we are used to. So people think that it's very easy to get an abolition of death penalty worldwide. But that is not true."

Italy has witnessed mass vigils in support of US prisoners on death row, including axe murderer Karla Faye Tucker who was put to death in Texas in 1998.

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See also:
11 Dec 99 |  Europe
Turkey makes death penalty pledge
18 Nov 99 |  World
Death penalty ban axed
27 Oct 99 |  Americas
US to decide electric chair's fate
04 Feb 98 |  Americas
Cheers and prayers greet Tucker's death

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