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Cheers in Geneva for Iraqi shoe thrower

Switzerland Irak Al-Zeidi
Iraqi reporter Muntadhar al-Zeidi with his Swiss lawyer, Mauro Poggia, right, at the Geneva press club on Monday.Laurent Gillieron / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

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.

Blames U.S. for deaths
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.

Cheered by reporters
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.