STRASBOURG, June 21 (AFP) - The world's first conference against the death penalty opened here Thursday, with the secretary general of the Council of Europe calling for a worldwide abolition of the practice.

Walter Schwimmer criticized in particular the United States--the site of two federal executions in the last 10 days--saying that if the death penalty was an instrument to fight crime, "the United States would be a crime-free country."

He also spoke out against the recent decision by Texas Governor Rick Perry to veto a bill that would have outlawed the execution of mentally retarded people in that state, calling for a fight to completely ban the death penalty.

Schwimmer also singled out Turkey, Russia and Armenia--all members of the Council of Europe who obseve a moratorium on capital punishment--to officially abolish the death penalty. On Friday, 18 heads of Europe's assemblies will meet in the European parliament to sign a formal appeal for a "worldwide moratorium of the death penalty with the goal of the universal abolition" of the practice.

The three-day conference in northeastern France brings together participants from 110 countries from around the world.

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