Arab world lauds Iraqi TV journalist' shoe-hurling at Bush

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Baghdad, Dec.16 (ANI): The Iraqi television journalist who hurled his shoes at visiting US President George W. Bush in Baghdad on Sunday, is being feted around the Arab world for having the courage to showcase the rage in the region over a war that is still regarded as unpopular.

President Bush, on a surprise trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, got a taste of dissent at a Baghdad press event Sunday when an Iraqi journalist threw shoes at him, forcing him to duck.

In Saudi Arabia, a newspaper reported that a man had offered 10 million dollars to buy just one of what has almost certainly become the world's most famous pair of black dress shoes.

A daughter of Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, reportedly awarded the shoe thrower, Muntader al-Zaidi, a 29-year-old journalist, a medal of courage.

According to the New York Times, in Sadr City, people calling for an immediate American withdrawal removed their footwear and placed the shoes and sandals at the end of long poles, waving them high in the air. And in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf, people threw their shoes at a passing American convoy.

In street-corner conversations, on television and in Internet chat rooms, the subject of shoes was inescapable throughout much of the Middle East on Monday, as was the defiant act that inspired the interest: a huge and spontaneous eruption of anger at President Bush on Sunday in his final visit here.

Some deplored Zaidi's act as a breach of respect or of traditional Arab hospitality toward guests, even if they shared the sentiment.

"Although that action was not expressed in a civilized manner, it showed the Iraqi feelings, which is to object to the American occupation," said Qutaiba Rajaa, a 58-year-old physician in Samarra, a Sunni stronghold north of Baghdad.

Zaidi, who remained in custody Monday, provided a rare moment of unity in a region often at odds with itself.

In Syria, Zaidi's picture was shown all day on state television, with Syrians calling in to share their admiration for his gesture and his bravery.

In central Damascus, a huge banner hung over a street, reading, "Oh, heroic journalist, thank you so much for what you have done."

In Lebanon, reactions varied by political affiliation, but curiosity about the episode was universal. An American visitor to a school in Beirut's southern suburb, where the Shiite militant group Hezbollah is popular, was besieged with questions from teachers and students alike, who wanted to know what Americans thought about the insult.

The instantly mythic moment took place Sunday night at a news conference by President Bush and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in Baghdad's Green Zone, a session meant partly to trumpet recent security gains in Iraq.

As Bush was speaking, Zaidi rose abruptly from about 12 feet away, reared his right arm and fired a shoe at the president's head while shouting in Arabic: "This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!"

Bush deftly ducked and the shoe narrowly missed him. A few seconds later, the journalist tossed his other shoe, again with great force, this time shouting, "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!" Again, the shoe sailed over the president's head.

Zaidi was subdued by a fellow journalist and then beaten by members of the prime minister's security detail, who hauled him out of the room in his white socks. Zaidi's cries could be heard from a nearby room as the news conference continued.

A number of Iraqis said they were dismayed by what Zaidi had done.

Zaidi, who has not been formally charged, faces up to seven years in prison for committing an act of aggression against a visiting head of state.

A statement from the Maliki's government described the shoe-throwing as a "shameful, savage act that is not related to journalism in any way."

It called on Al Baghdadia, the Cairo-based satellite television network for which Zaidi works, to publicly apologize.

But as of Monday night, no apology from the network had been forthcoming. (ANI)

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