Iraqi President Jalal Talabani says he will never sign former deputy prime minister Tareq Aziz’s execution order, despite his sentencing to death last month.

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“No, I will not sign this kind of order because I am a socialist,” Talabani, a Kurd, told France 24 television during an interview.

“I feel for Tareq Aziz, because he’s an Iraqi Christian, and he’s also an elderly person over 70-years-old. That’s why I will never sign this execution order.”

Aziz was given the death penalty on October 26 for a crackdown on Shi’ite religious parties in the 1980s, and is also on trial for a crackdown on Iraqi Kurds.

Iraq’s supreme criminal court found the long-time international face of the Saddam Hussein regime guilty of “deliberate murder and crimes against humanity”, sentencing him to death.

The verdict provoked a wave of appeals for clemency from around the world, including from rights groups, the European Union, Russia and the Vatican.

Aged 74 and in poor health, Aziz has been in prison since surrendering in April 2003, a month after the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Talabani has previously said that he is generally against capital punishment, and declined to confirm some court execution orders but without preventing the hangings going ahead.

Aziz was the latest member of Saddam’s fallen regime to be ordered to die, but Talabani said it was time to turn the page on the punishment, barring for some sectarian crimes.

“I think that the page of executions needs to be turned, except concerning the crimes committed at the cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and crimes against Shi’ite pilgrims and holy sites,” he said.

At least 46 hostages, including two priests, were killed during a hostage drama with al-Qaeda gunmen in Baghdad’s Sayidat al-Nejat Syriac Catholic cathedral during Sunday mass at the end of last month.