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LONDON (AP) -- World leaders including the Iraq war's most prominent opponents welcomed Saddam Hussein's capture, saying it brought a long-awaited end to the career of a brutal dictator and could mark the beginning of peace in Iraq.
The U.S. military announced that a bearded Saddam offered no resistance when he was caught hiding in a tiny underground "spider hole" on a farm near his hometown of Tikrit, ending one of the most intense manhunts in history.
"Where his rule meant terror and division and brutality, let his capture bring about unity, reconciliation and peace," Prime Minister Tony Blair said. "Saddam is gone from power. He won't be coming back, that the Iraqi people now know and it is they who will decide his fate."
Blair braved intense domestic opposition to support the U.S.-led war that ousted Saddam in April, ostensibly for his production and stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction.
Former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, whose U.N. teams found no such weapons before the war began, said Saddam would be able to shed light on them if they truly existed.
Thousands of U.S. forces also have not found any such weapons despite free run of the country for nearly eight months since the war ended.
Iraq's interim government has established a special tribunal to try Saddam and other members of his regime for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The United States still hasn't decided what to do with Saddam, though Blair said Saddam could be "tried in Iraqi courts for his crimes against the Iraqi people." Ahmad Chalabi, a member of Iraq's Governing Council, said Saddam would be tried.
In Yemen, Mohammed Abdel Qader Mohammadi, 50, said he was surprised Saddam did not fight his capture. "I expected him to resist or commit suicide before falling into American hands. He disappointed a lot of us, he's a coward."
The government of Jordan said Sunday it hoped that Saddam's capture would contribute to the dawning of a new era and help the Iraqi people restore law and order in their in their war-ravaged country.
"What the Jordanian government cares about is the safety and security of the Iraqi people and the restoration of political stability in that brotherly Arab nation," Asma Khader, a state minister and the government spokeswoman, told The Associated Press.
In downtown Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Ibrahim al-Khodir, 37, said Saddam should be put to death.
"This should have happened a long time ago," al-Khodir said. "Such a ruthless dictator and criminal should get the death penalty and he should be executed in front of the Iraqi people."
Iraq's war crimes tribunal would cover crimes committed from July 17, 1968 -- the day Saddam's Baath Party came to power -- until May 1, 2003 -- the day President Bush declared major hostilities over. Saddam became president in 1979 but wielded vast influence starting from the early 1970s.
The Spanish government, another supporter of the war, also hailed the news.
"The time has come for him to pay for his crimes," said Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, an outspoken supporter of the war to oust Saddam, despite widespread opposition at home.
"He is responsible for the killing of millions of people over the last 30 years. He is a threat to his people and to the entire world," Aznar said.
France, which has had a rocky relationship with the United States since it led the opposition to the war, said the capture would help stabilize the country and lead to its sovereignty.
"It's a major event that should strongly contribute to democracy and stability in Iraq and allow the Iraqis to master their destiny," French President Jacques Chirac said in a statement.
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said he hoped Saddam's capture would help restore stability.
The United Nations gradually withdrew its international staff in Iraq after the Aug. 19 bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, which killed 22 people.
"We are hoping for any events on the ground in Iraq to help stabilize the situation there and to ensure and help with its long-term security," Haq said.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, another foe of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, congratulated President Bush.
"With much happiness I learned about the arrest of Saddam Hussein," Schroeder wrote in a letter to Bush released by the German government. "I congratulate you on this successful action."
In a separate statement, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the government hoped Saddam's capture would give impetus to the swift transfer of power to the Iraqi people.
"This important success offers the chance to speed up the hand over of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government to increase stability in Iraq," Fischer said.
Japan applauded the news of Saddam's capture, as a video tape showing a bearded Saddam being examined by a doctor was broadcast on news channels throughout the region.
"The capture is a big step forward for the progress of security and the reconstruction of Iraq, and I welcome it," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said, according to his spokesman Yu Kameoka.
"I strongly hope it will bring Iraqi people closer together to realize a free and democratic Iraq. Japan will do its best to support the reconstruction of Iraq," he said in comments released late Sunday.
News of Saddam's capture reverberated among the 500 delegates and other dignitaries at the opening session of Afghanistan's historic constitutional council, being held in Kabul.
Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said the arrest would help improve security in Afghanistan by dampening the ability of militant groups to recruit fighters here.
"What happens in Iraq is also something to do with the situation in Afghanistan. Since the war in Iraq, the terrorist organizations have tried to open a new front in Afghanistan, so any failure of terrorism in Iraq is going to effect the situation in Afghanistan," Jalali told The Associated Press.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)