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Akmal Shaikh: China Executes British Man

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URUMQI, China — China on Tuesday executed a British man convicted of drug smuggling in its first execution of a European citizen in half a century, drawing a strong condemnation from Britain's prime minister.

Britain's Foreign Office confirmed the execution of Akmal Shaikh, whose relatives say was mentally unstable and was unwittingly lured into the crime.

"I condemn the execution of Akmal Shaikh in the strongest terms, and am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted. I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in a statement issued by the Foreign Office.

Shaikh, 53, was the first European citizen to be executed in China in five decades.

Shaikh first learned of his death sentence Monday from his visiting cousins, who made a last-minute plea for his life. They say he is mentally unstable and was lured to China from a life on the street in Poland by men playing on his dreams to record a pop song for world peace.

Brown had spoken personally to China's prime minister about his case.

Shaikh was arrested in 2007 for carrying a suitcase with almost 9 pounds (4 kilograms) of heroin into China on a flight from Tajikistan. He told Chinese officials he didn't know about the drugs and that the suitcase wasn't his, according to Reprieve, a London-based prisoner advocacy that helped with his case.

He was convicted in 2008 after a half-hour trial. In one court appearance during his trial and appeal process, the judges reportedly laughed at his rambling remarks.

It was not known how Shaikh, who is of Pakistani descent, was executed. China, which executes more people than any other country, is increasingly doing so by lethal injection, although some death sentences are still carried out by a shot in the head.

An Associated Press reporter who was detained Tuesday by paramilitary police while trying to take pictures of the Xishan Detention Center, where Shaikh was held during his incarceration, was told by a prison police officer who refused to give his name that prisoners in the Xinjiang region were all now executed by lethal injection.

The officer said Shaikh did not appear to have mental problems, was friendly with other prisoners and had learned to speak a little Chinese while detained.

China has defended the handling of Shaikh's case, saying he received a fair trial.

"Drug smuggling is a grave crime. The rights of the defendant have been fully guaranteed," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a news conference last week.

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