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Blair: Shadow of Saddam removed
( 2003-12-14 21:56) (CNN)

Tony Blair has welcomed the capture of Saddam Hussein, saying: "This is very good news for the people of Iraq."

The UK prime minister made a statement from London Sunday saying: "I very much welcome the capture last night of Saddam Hussein. I pay tribute to the work of the coalition intelligence and military forces in capturing him.

"This is very good news for the people of Iraq. It removes the shadow that has been hanging over them for too long of the nightmare of a return to the Saddam regime. This fear is now removed."

Following the establishment of a war crimes tribunal in Iraq, Blair said the arrest provided "an opportunity for Saddam to be tried in Iraqi courts for his crimes against the Iraqi people."

He added: "It gives us an opportunity to take a step forward in Iraq. In particular I appeal for the Sunni community and former Baathist officials to grasp the opportunity for reconciliation. We should try now to unite the whole of Iraq in rebuilding the country and offering it a new future."

Blair, who flew back to the UK from a summit in Brussels Saturday, was Bush's closest ally in the war in Iraq.

Member of Parliament Ann Clwyd, Blair's special representative to Iraq, said the news was "a wonderful Christmas present".

"Certainly for the people of Iraq it is terrific news because they needed to know that Saddam was not going to come back in any shape or form," she told UK broadcaster Sky News.

"That has always been the fear, that he would regain power again so that is fantastic news. And for people terrorized by Saddam's regime for over 30 years this brings some kind of closure to the whole terrible episode."

George Galloway, who was expelled from Blair's Labour Party for his views on the war, warned that Saddam's capture might "inflame" opposition to the U.S. in Iraq.

"It might be seized upon by the prime minister as something to laugh about, but I very much doubt if it will be the last laugh," he told the BBC.

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