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Protesters demand release of Iraqi reporter

Thu., Feb. 19, 2009, midnight

BAGHDAD – About 100 people staged a protest in Baghdad on Wednesday to demand the release of the Iraqi who threw his shoes at ex-President George W. Bush on the eve of the TV journalist’s trial.

A lawyer for journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi, 30, said the defense would ask for a postponement when court convenes today in western Baghdad.

“We will also demand his release because his act was spontaneous against the president of the state that occupies Iraq,” lawyer Khalid al-Izzi told the Associated Press.

Al-Zeidi, who works for a satellite station based in Cairo, Egypt, has been in custody since the Dec. 14 outburst at Bush’s joint news conference with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad.

The obscure reporter was transformed into a cult figure across the Muslim world, where thousands hailed him as a hero and demanded his release for what they considered a justified act of patriotism.

But al-Maliki was deeply embarrassed by the assault against an American president who had stood by him during the worst of the violence when some Arab leaders were quietly urging the U.S. to oust him.

Al-Zeidi’s lawyers say he faces charges of assaulting a foreign leader with intent to harm, which carries up to 15 years in prison. Iraqi courts have the power to change the charges once the trial is under way.

Al-Zeidi’s brother, Durgham, attended the protest and said about 50 of the journalist’s relatives will attend today’s trial.

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