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Iraq PM denies interfering at trial

IRAQI Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says his government did not intervene in the trial of the journalist who hurled his shoes at former United States President George W. Bush, but offered little sympathy for the man many consider a hero for his protest.

In an interview broadcast yesterday, al-Maliki disagreed that many Iraqis supported Muntadhar al-Zeidi's act of shoe throwing during a news conference last December by the two leaders in Baghdad.

Al-Zeidi was sentenced earlier this month in an Iraqi court to three years in prison after a quick trial - two relatively brief hearings - that fed widespread suspicion among Iraqis that al-Maliki's US-backed government orchestrated the process.

Defense lawyers said they had no evidence of interference although they argued the sentence wasn't warranted because al-Zeidi's act was an expression of freedom and not a crime.

Al-Maliki told the partly government-funded Special Broadcasting Service that al-Zeidi could have faced longer time for the crime of insulting a visiting head of state.

"What this man did in an official prime ministerial venue, in the presence of the prime minister and a state visitor - the Iraqi law, the Iraqi constitution, even under the old regime, applies sentences for 15 years up to execution," al-Maliki said in an interview in Arabic on his March 10-14 visit to Australia, according to broadcaster SBS's translation. "We left it to the law and did not interfere, and he was sentenced to three years."


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