by Elizabeth Roche Sat Dec 30, 8:03 AM ET
NEW DELHI (AFP) - India, which had warm ties with the Iraqi regime of former dictator
Saddam Hussein, condemned the execution of the ousted president, as Muslims took to the streets to protest the killing.
"We had already expressed the hope the execution would not be carried out. We are disappointed that it has been," said Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee in a statement hours after the early morning execution.
"We hope this unfortunate event will not affect the process of reconciliation, restoration of peace and normalcy in
Iraq," Mukherjee said on Saturday.
The official condemnation came as Muslims in several parts of India, home to 130 million Muslims, demonstrated against Saddam's execution.
In the eastern city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), several thousand protesters shouted anti-US slogans and set ablaze effigies of US
President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister
Tony Blair, police said.
The protesters hoisted placards that read: "Bush is the real enemy of humanity" and "We will not forget Saddam, a freedom fighter".
In West Bengal state, of which Kolkata is the capital, the ruling Marxists reacted sharply to Hussein's execution.
"US imperialism has acted according its programme without caring for global protests," said Marxist leader Biman Bose.
In Srinagar, summer capital of insurgency-hit Indian
Kashmir, dozens of youths cried anti-US slogans and carried signs calling Bush "the world's biggest terrorist".
Security personnel were on high alert in Kashmir, where Indian troops are fighting to suppress a 17-year-old Islamic separatist insurgency.
Hardline Kashmiri separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani condemned Hussein's execution as an "anti-human, anti-democratic and anti-moral act".
"The timing of the hanging was planned to hurt the sentiments of Muslims worldwide as it came at a time when we were preparing for the holy festival at the end of the annual Hajj," he said.
The holiday of Eid Al-Adha or Feast of Sacrifice is synonymous with joy and sumptuous feasts and follows the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, which culminated December 29.
In southern Kerala state, hundreds protested at a beach named after the former Iraqi ruler in Muslim-dominated Malappuram district, witnesses said.
"We're pained by his death ... America has shown its worst imperialistic face," protester Ottummal Ummer told AFP.
"I feel like I've lost my brother," said 70-year-old Puthiyal Beevathu, who watched the protests, adding she wept when Hussein's death was announced on television.
Kerala's ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) called for stores and businesses to shut down on Saturday afternoon.
India's former foreign minister, Natwar Singh, also said Saddam should not have been executed.
"He should have been given life imprisonment. My own reaction is that it will arouse very strong passions in large parts of the world," he said.
Singh was sacked from his post this year after he was implicated in a UN oil-for-food scandal involving Saddam's former regime.
"The reaction among Indian Muslims too, certainly a large part of them, will be anger," he said.