Page last updated at 17:43 GMT, Thursday, 19 February 2009

Iraqi shoe thrower trial delayed


The incident drew mixed reactions in Iraq

The trial of an Iraqi man who threw his shoes at former US President George W Bush has been adjourned until March.

Muntadar al-Zaidi is charged with assaulting a foreign leader and faces a maximum sentence of 15 years.

His lawyers argue he was simply expressing his views in a country where passions are still inflamed after the US-led invasion in 2003.

In his first public appearance since his arrest, Mr Zaidi was met in court by applause, ululating and chanting.

The journalist wore an Iraqi flag draped over his shoulders.

He appeared fit and well, despite reports from friends and family that he was badly beaten shortly after his arrest.

But a BBC reporter who saw Mr Zaidi at close quarters said his right front tooth was missing.

The Iraqi TV reporter achieved global notoriety by his actions, which were celebrated across the Arab world.

'Symbol of disrespect'

In court in Baghdad, Mr Zaidi requested two more lawyers to be added to his already huge defence team, and the judge ordered a short break to consider the request.

The judge later adjourned the trial until 12 March, saying the court needs time to ask the Iraqi cabinet whether Mr Bush's visit was "formal or informal", the Associated Press news agency reported.

The point could be significant. The Iraqi penal code specifies a prison sentence of between seven to 15 years for attacking a foreign head of state during an official visit.

If the charges were reduced to "insulting" a foreign head of state, the penalty could come down to two years in jail or a fine.

Earlier, the head of his defence team told the BBC they would be pressing for the charges to be dismissed and for Mr Zaidi to be freed, without delay.

He said Mr Zaidi stood by what he had done and would not be offering any apologies to Mr Bush.

Muntadar al-Zaidi (file image)
Mr Zaidi's lawyers say he was making a legitimate protest

Mr Zaidi's lawyers said earlier that he had simply been expressing his opposition to the US presence in Iraq and that Mr Bush had never been in serious danger.

"Have you ever heard of anyone being killed by a shoe?" lawyer Dhiaa al-Saadi asked Reuters news agency in December.

"In Europe, they throw eggs and rotten tomatoes to insult. In Iraq, throwing a shoe is a symbol of disrespect."

The trial is not expected to last long, as the sequence of events is not in dispute.

Mr Zaidi threw two shoes at Mr Bush during a press conference in Baghdad on 15 December.

He shouted that Mr Bush was "a dog" and the shoes were "a farewell kiss" from those who had been killed, orphaned or widowed in Iraq.

Mr Bush ducked the shoes and appeared untroubled by the incident, joking shortly after that he knew they were a size 10.

Mr Zaidi was arrested and has been held in custody ever since.

His actions were condemned by the Iraqi government as "shameful", but he was celebrated as a hero by thousands in the Arab world, who called for his immediate release from prison.

Mr Zaidi had been due to go on trial last December, but his trial was postponed.

One of his brothers, Dargham al-Zaidi, told the BBC he believed the Iraqi authorities were damaging themselves by prolonging the shoe-thrower's detention.

"The longer they keep him in jail, the more they add to his glory and make a hero of him. Now people are copying him in other countries," he said.

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