Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets yesterday demanding the release of the al-Baghdadiya TV reporter who called Bush ‘you dog’ and threw his shoes at the US President at a Baghdad news conference.
Crowds gathered in The Iraqi capital’s Sadr City district calling for ‘hero’ Muntazer al-Zaidi to be freed from custody.
There were similar scenes in Najaf.
Officials at the Iraqi-owned TV station based in Cairo, al-Baghdadiya, also called for the release of their journalist.
‘Any measures against Muntazer will be considered the acts of a dictatorial regime,’ the station said in a statement.
‘Al-Baghdadiya television demands that the Iraqi authorities immediately release their reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi, in line with the democracy and freedom of expression that the American authorities promised the Iraqi people,’ the statement added.
Al-Baghdadiya’s bureau chief in Cairo, Fityan Mohammed, said he feared for al-Zaidi’s safety.
In the meantime, Saddam Hussein’s former lawyer said that he was forming a team to defend the Iraqi journalist.
‘So far around 200 Iraqi and other lawyers, including Americans, have expressed willingness to defend the journalist for free,’ the Amman-based Khalil al-Dulaimi said.
‘I took the decision on Sunday night to defend the man after the incident. I am currently contacting Arab bar associations to form a defence committee.
‘It was the least thing for an Iraqi to do to Bush, the tyrant criminal who has killed two million people in Iraq and Afghanistan,’ said Dulaimi.
‘Zaidi should be released immediately.’
Al-Baghdadiya programming director, Muzhir al-Khafaji, described the journalist as a ‘proud Arab and an open-minded man’.
He also said he was afraid for Zaidi’s safety, adding that the reporter had been arrested by US officials twice before.
Al-Khafaji added: ‘We fear that our correspondents in Iraq will be arrested.
‘We have 200 correspondents there.’
Arabic TV stations have been repeatedly showing footage of the incident, which was also front-page news in many papers.
Correspondents say the journalist’s tirade was echoed by Arabs across the Middle East who are fed up with US policy in the region.
Al-Zaidi on Sunday hurled his shoes at Bush’s head and denounced him on live television as a ‘dog’ who had delivered death and sorrow with nearly six years of war.
Sitting in the third row at a press conference attended by puppet Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the reporter jumped up and shouted in Arabic ‘This is a gift from the Iraqi people; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!’, and hurled one of his shoes.
As stunned security agents and guards, officials and journalists watched, Zaidi then threw his other shoe, shouting in Arabic, ‘This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!’
One of the shoes sailed over the president’s head and slammed into the wall behind him and he had to duck to miss the other one.
Maliki’s security agents jumped on the man, wrestled him to the floor and hustled him out of the room.
An Iraqi official said yesterday that the journalist was being interrogated to determine whether anybody paid him to throw his shoes at President Bush.
He was also being tested for alcohol and drugs, and his shoes were being held as evidence, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.