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Saddam minister seeks treatment in Sweden

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13:34 CET+01:00
Lawyers for Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi foreign minister under Saddam Hussein, have filed an application with the government for his immediate release and have asked Sweden to accept him for urgent medical treatment.

Giovanni Di Stefano, an international lawyer acting for Aziz, told AFP on Friday that the defence team had asked the government to free him immediately on compassionate grounds "bearing in mind his precarious health and other mitigating factors".

Another lawyer for Aziz, Badie Arif Ezzat, said on Thursday, the day the application was made, that his client's health has recently seriously deteriorated following cerebral embolism and heart problems and that he could soon die.

However, Sweden's Ministry of Foreign Affairs told The Local that no formal application had been received.

"Maybe they have sent it, but we've checked with the cabinet and the department concerned and nothing has come in," said Anders Ericson, press secretary at the ministry.

Ericson declined to comment on the procedure that would follow should the ministry receive such an application from Aziz.

"We treat everything on a case-by-case basis," he said.

As well as Sweden, Di Stefano said he had written on Friday to the foreign ministers of France and Italy asking if Aziz could receive medical treatment in their countries.

"Whilst H.E. Tariq Aziz will always consider Iraq his home, for practical reasons he will require safe and secure medical attention" which can only be obtained abroad, said Di Stefano.

The lawyer also said that prosecutors recently dropped charges of crimes against humanity levelled against Aziz, replacing them with charges of financial irregularities.

Aziz has been detained since April 2003 and, even if convicted, would not be sentenced to a longer jail term than that already served, he added.

A US official on Thursday said Aziz's health had not significantly worsened recently, noting that he had already been suffering from existing ailments when taken into US custody in April 2003.

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