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December 2, 2005 - Associated Press (US)

Australian Heroin Smuggler Put To Death

Vigil, 'Beautiful Last Visit' With Family, Precedes Hanging In Singapore

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SINGAPORE -- Singapore executed a 25-year-old Australian on Friday for drug trafficking, despite numerous appeals from the Australian government and hours after the condemned man had a "beautiful last visit" with his family.

Nguyen Tuong Van was hanged before dawn as a dozen friends and supporters, dressed in black, kept an overnight vigil outside the maximum-security prison. His twin brother, Nguyen Khoa, was dressed in white.

Vigils were also held in cities around Australia, with bells and gongs sounding 25 times at the hour of his execution.

"The sentence was carried out this morning at Changi Prison," the Home Affairs Ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

Nguyen received a mandatory death sentence after he was caught in 2002 at Singapore's airport on his way home to Melbourne carrying about 400 grams of heroin.

Singapore has executed more than 100 people for drug-related offences since 1999, saying its tough laws and penalties are an effective deterrent against a crime that ruins lives.

By contrast, Australia scrapped the death penalty in 1973 and hanged its last criminal in 1967.

While Australian leaders lashed out at the death sentence as "barbaric" and pleaded for clemency for Nguyen, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong ruled out a reprieve.

"We have stated our position clearly," Lee told reporters in Berlin on Thursday after meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "The penalty is death."

Nguyen visited with his mother, Kim, twin brother, Nguyen Khoa, a friend and his lawyers Thursday.

Julian McMahon, one of his Australian lawyers, said Nguyen was "completely rehabilitated, completely reformed, completely focused on doing what is good and now they are going to kill him."

Lee emphasized that all factors, including Australian letters for clemency, had been "taken into account" but said "the law will have to take its course."

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