Iraqi Shoe Thrower gets Hero's Welcome in Geneva

By: Bradley S. Klapper - AP Writer
By: Bradley S. Klapper - AP Writer

The Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President George W. Bush leaned back in his chair and soaked in the round of applause.

This was not Baghdad or Damascus or Beirut. This was Geneva,
where Muntadhar al-Zeidi was given a hero's welcome Monday far
warmer than the subdued reception in his own homeland.

"I am one of the victims of the occupation," al-Zeidi said at
a press conference alongside two local politicians, repeating his
allegations that he was severely tortured, including with electric
shocks, during his nine months of Iraqi detention.

His claims were often inexact, and it was unclear if the
confusion was a result of faulty interpreting.

He said he was tortured for "three months," and then later he
said the mistreatment was over "three days."

He pledged to decline all gifts from wealthy Arabs until he sets
up a foundation to support suffering Iraqis and said he was
visiting Switzerland and other countries with financial support
from friends.

He condemned the United States, saying it played a role in 1
million deaths and forcing 5 million people to flee. He made no
mention of the violence among Iraqi groups since the 2003 U.S.
invasion.

Most of Iraq's 2 million international refugees live in
neighboring Syria and Jordan, while the International Organization
for Migration says a similar number of Iraqis are uprooted inside
the country's borders. About 100,000 Iraqis have suffered violent
deaths over the last 6 1/2 years, according to The Iraq Body Count,
a London-based group whose figures are widely considered a credible
minimum.

Al-Zeidi's reception in Switzerland was noteworthy. While his
shoe-throwing act of protest in December made him a hero for many
in the Muslim world, there was little public outpouring of support
for him when he was released last month in Baghdad.

Since the incident, U.S. forces have pulled back from Iraq's
cities, significantly lowering the profile of the U.S. military
ahead of a planned full withdrawal from the country.

Also, President Barack Obama is seen by many Muslims as far more
sympathetic to their cause than Bush, whom many blamed for
unleashing Iraq's turmoil. Security improvements have also left
Iraqis undecided on whether the invasion was the unmitigated evil
depicted by many war critics.

In Geneva, those issues faded as al-Zeidi was cheered by
reporters and others after recounting his tale of torture at Iraqi
hands, his inspiration for throwing the shoes at Bush, and his
demands that U.S. forces leave Iraq and Bush face an international
tribunal.

He was asked if he was tortured by Americans as well. He denied
that.

The U.S. diplomatic mission in Geneva declined to comment on
al-Zeidi's visit.

Al-Zeidi was released three months early for good behavior, and,
with the help of his Geneva lawyer, obtained a tourist visa for
Switzerland.

The lawyer, Mauro Poggia, is a leader of the right-wing Geneva
Citizen's Movement party that has gained popularity recently with
proposal to limit foreign workers in the city.

At least two reporters were scolded by the imam of a Geneva
mosque for posing more challenging questions or making certain
remarks, even as al-Zeidi spoke about unfair restrictions on
journalists in Iraq.


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