Iraqi shoe-thrower defiant as trial adjourned

BAGHDAD, Feb 19, 2009 (AFP) - The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George W. Bush defiantly defended his actions in court on Thursday, saying he had become emotionally overwhelmed when confronted by the ex-US president.

Udai, the brother of jailed journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi, is surrounded by the press as he leaves the Central Criminal Court in Baghdad on February 19 2009, following the first day of his brother's trial (AFP Photo)

Muntazer al-Zaidi won global fame when his footwear whizzed past Bush's head on December 14 as the then president was making a farewell visit to Iraq before leaving the White House.

His lawyers used the trial's opening arguments to assert that the remarkable protest was lawful, but the judge brought proceedings to a halt 90 minutes later, saying that more information was needed about Bush's trip.

The journalist had told the court that he had become outraged and been unable to control his emotions when Bush, who ordered the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, started speaking.

"I saw only Bush and it was like something black in my eyes," he said from the dock, with an Iraqi flag draped across his shoulders.

"So I took the first shoe and threw it but it did not hit him. Then spontaneously I took the second shoe but it did not hit him either. I was not trying to kill the commander of the occupation forces of Iraq."

The trial had opened amid high security in Baghdad. Zaidi gave a detailed account of the joint press conference, which was being beamed live across the world, which Bush was addressing alongside Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

"I came to the press conference and the US security guards asked the Iraqi journalists to go outside and they started to check us and they checked one journalist in a humiliating manner while we were on Iraqi soil," he said.

"After Bush started speaking about 'victory and achievement in Iraq' with an icy smile... I did what I did."

After his testimony, Zaidi argued that Bush's trip to Iraq had not been an official visit. One of the three trial judges, Abdulamir Hassan al-Rubai, then said that the trial would be adjourned until March 12.

"We have adjourned the trial so that we can contact the prime minister's office to find out if the visit of the ex-American president Bush was an official visit or not," he said.

The reporter faces up to 15 years in prison if he is found guilty of assaulting a foreign leader, the charge levelled against him by prosecutors for the dramatic gesture that was hailed across the Arab world.

Zaidi was stony-faced throughout the hearing, dressed in a khaki-coloured jacket and a black shirt.

Tight security measures were in place, with cars being checked and all electronic equipment being taken off people heading into the hearing.

The trial judge initially asked Zaidi to state his name, occupation and address. The journalist's lawyer then said that the accused had "social, political and psychological reasons" for doing what he did.

The journalist's family were also at the court.

"It is a historic test for the Iraqi justice system," one of his brothers, Uday Zaidi, told AFP.

"If he is released it will show that the justice system is independent and he will be a hero. But if he is condemned, it will bring shame on the system."

The 30-year-old journalist works for the private Al-Baghdadia television channel.

The trial was heard at the Central Criminal Court, which is responsible for terrorism cases and situated near the Green Zone in Baghdad, where the Iraqi government and some Western embassies are located.

Bush managed to duck and narrowly avoid the shoes. The gesture is considered a grave and symbolic insult in the Arab and Muslim world.

The journalist, who was abducted by insurgents during the sectarian strife in Iraq after the invasion, also insulted Bush verbally, shouting: "It is the farewell kiss, you dog," before being wrestled to the ground by security guards.

Bush reappeared soon afterwards and laughed off the incident, joking with reporters that the shoes were a "size 10".

The charge of assaulting a foreign leader carries a prison term of between five and 15 years.

The incident inspired a British student, Alex Tew, to create a "Sock and Awe" (www.sockandawe.com) shoe-throwing website which says it has so far had more than 86 million hits in the face of ex-president Bush on the Internet.

Source: AFP

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