Colosseum lights reflect death penalty campaign

FOR THE past 2,000 years it has been known as the venue where slaves, criminals and Christians were torn to shreds by wild beasts as the crowd roared. But the Colosseum is entering a new millennium as a symbol of life in a campaign against the death penalty.

Until December 2000 special lighting will be switched on for 48 hours each time a death sentence is commuted or a nation abolishes capital punishment. Sister Helen Prejean, on whom the film Dead Man Walking was based, was present to give a symbolic thumbs-up, a signal used by emperors to indicate that someone would be saved.

The campaign, promoted by Italian human rights and pacifist groups, seeks to step up pressure on governments for at least a moratorium on executions for the year 2000. Italy has been one of the most outspoken nations in seeking abolition of the death penalty.