January 1, 2009

Journalist who threw shoes at Bush, Muntazer al-Zaidi, 'has broken arm and ribs'

Iraq Bush


Oliver August in Baghdad

He may be a hero to millions of Iraqis but the “shoe man” has had to spend a second night in detention, during which he nursed a broken arm and ribs as well as cuts to his face, according to his brother.

Muntazer al-Zaidi rose to fame on Sunday when he threw his shoes at President George Bush during a Baghdad press conference, missing narrowly, in apparent protest at the actions of US troops over the past few years.

His brother, Durgham al-Zaidi, said he was told that Mr al-Zaidi is held by Iraqi forces in the heavily fortified Green Zone compound in central Baghdad, where the US embassy and most government offices are housed.

“He has got a broken arm and ribs, and cuts to his eye and arm,” he said. “He is being held by forces under the command of Muwafaq al-Rubaie [Iraq’s national security adviser]." Television pictures from the press conference show Mr al-Zaidi being carried away by prime ministerial guards but no sign of excess violence.

Thousands of Iraqis, both Sunni and Shia, took part in a second day of street protests today demanding Mr Zaidi’s release and hailing him a national hero. In Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, north of Baghdad, an estimated 1,000 protesters carried banners and chanted slogans in his support.

Several hundred more also protested in Nasiriyah, a Shia city about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, and in Fallujah, a Sunni area west of the capital. “Muntazer al-Zaidi has expressed the feelings and ambitions of the Iraqi people toward the symbol of tyranny,” said Nassar Afrawi, a protester in Nasiriyah.

In Baghdad, the head of the Iraqi Union of Journalists described Mr al-Zeidi’s action as “strange and unprofessional” but urged Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to give him clemency.

“Even if he has committed a mistake, the Government and the judiciary are broad-minded and we hope they consider his release because he has a family and he is still young,” Mouyyad al-Lami said. “We hope this case ends before going to court.”

Mr al-Zaidi’s action is a personal embarrassment to the Iraqi Prime Minister, who was standing next to Mr Bush at the press conference. But given that 2009 is an election in Iraq, Mr al-Zaidi’s popularity is likely to save him from a long prison sentence.

In one example of Mr al-Zaidi’s status, a geography teacher at a Baghdad elementary school asked her students if they had seen the footage of the shoe-throwing. “All Iraqis should be proud of this Iraqi brave man, Muntazer. History will remember him for ever,” she said.

Mr al-Zaidi’s action also won him widespread plaudits in the Arab world, where President Bush’s policies have drawn broad hostility. Lebanese television channel NTV, known for its opposition to Washington, went as far as offering a job to the journalist. In its evening news bulletin on Monday, it said that if he takes the job he will be paid “from the moment the first shoe was thrown”.

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