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Europeans press the US to end the death penalty

With 37 prisoners executed last year, the United States is among the top five countries that still have the death penalty.

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The United States does not often find itself in a league with China, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.

But as international human rights groups and a number of countries, particularly in the European Union [EU], prepare to mark World Day Against the Death Penalty Saturday, that list of the five countries where nearly all of 2008's executions were carried out is where the US finds itself.

Proponents of abolishing the death penalty worldwide say the global trend is in their favor, and they claim the march of countries putting an end to executions is accelerating.

But even though a large majority of known executions carried out last year were in China, the US remains a key target of the abolition campaign as a country that in most other instances is seen sharing values with other Western powers.

"The death penalty is being progressively abolished worldwide, and at an accelerating pace," says Sweden's ambassador to the United States Jonas Hafström, who joined European Union officials in Washington Friday to promote a global focus on ending the death penalty.

Noting that 139 countries – more than two-thirds of the world total – have abolished the practice, Ambassador Hafström adds that more than 80 percent of known executions last year were carried out in five countries, including the US.

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