Turkey says will not hand over fugitive Iraqi VP Hashemi

ISTANBUL Tue Sep 11, 2012 5:17am EDT

Iraq's fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi gestures as he addresses the media in Ankara September 10, 2012. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Iraq's fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi gestures as he addresses the media in Ankara September 10, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Umit Bektas

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey will not hand over Iraq's fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who faces a death sentence against him in Baghdad, and he can remain in Turkey as long as he needs to, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.

"I'll say it very clearly. We will be willing to host Mr. Hashemi as long as he wants, and we will not hand him over," Erdogan told a news conference in the capital Ankara.

An Iraqi court sentenced Hashemi to death by hanging on Sunday after a trial on charges that he ran death squads.

The sentence for Hashemi, a senior Sunni Muslim politician, threatened to stoke sectarian tension in Iraq, where a Shi'ite-led government is battling political instability and a Sunni Islamist insurgency nine months after U.S. troops left.

Hashemi, a fierce critic of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, fled Iraq after the authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in December, a step that risked shredding a fragile power-sharing agreement among Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs.

"There is no truth in the accusations against him. To the contrary, Hashemi has unfortunately lost family members in Iraq," Erdogan said. "It is out of question for him to be involved in such acts."

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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