AFP - The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at US former president George W. Bush had his trial adjourned on Thursday only hours after it opened amid high security in Baghdad.
Muntazer al-Zaidi won global fame when his footwear whizzed past Bush's head on December 14 as the then president was making a farewell visit to Iraq before leaving the White House.
His lawyers used the trial's opening arguments to assert that the remarkable protest was lawful, but the judge brought proceedings to a halt within hours, saying that more information was needed about Bush's trip.
"We have postponed the trial so that we can contact the prime minister's office to find out if the visit of the ex-American president Bush was an official visit or not," the judge said, postponing proceedings until March 12.
The reporter faces up to 15 years in prison if he is found guilty of assaulting a foreign leader, the charge levelled against him by prosecutors for the dramatic gesture that was hailed across the Arab world.
Zaidi was stony-faced as he arrived in the courtroom wearing an Iraqi-flag tied round his neck as a scarf, khaki-coloured jacket and a black shirt. He told the court that Bush's trip was not an official visit as it had not been announced in advance, an argument that was initially rejected by the judge.
However, the decision was taken to seek clarification from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office.
High security measures were in place, with cars being checked and all electronic equipment being taken off people heading into the hearing.
The trial judge asked Zaidi to state his name, occupation and address. The journalist's lawyer then said that the accused had "social, political and psychological reasons" for doing what he did.
The journalist's family were also at the court.
"It is a historic test for the Iraqi justice system," one of his brothers, Uday Zaidi, told AFP.
"If he is released it will show that the justice system is independent and he will be a hero. But if he is condemned it will bring shame on the system."
Zaidi's legal team wanted the charge to be thrown out and for the 30-year-old journalist, who works for the private Al-Baghdadia television channel, to be freed.
The trial had opened at 10:00 am (0700 GMT) at the Central Criminal Court, which is responsible for terrorism cases and situated near the Green Zone in Baghdad, where the Iraqi government and some Western embassies are located.
Bush, who ordered the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, was speaking at a joint media conference with Maliki, when he managed to duck and narrowly avoid the shoes thrown by Zaidi.
The gesture is considered a grave and symbolic insult in the Arab and Muslim world.
The journalist, who was abducted by insurgents during the sectarian strife in Iraq after the invasion, also insulted Bush verbally, shouting: "It is the farewell kiss, you dog," before being wrestled to the ground by security guards.
Bush reappeared soon afterwards and laughed off the incident, joking with reporters that the shoes were a "size 10".
The charge of assaulting a foreign leader carries a prison term of between five and 15 years.
A judge in December rejected allegations by the journalist's family that he had been tortured in custody, charges that were levelled after his brother was allowed to visit him in prison.
The incident inspired a British student, Alex Tew, to create a "Sock and Awe" (www.sockandawe.com) shoe-throwing website which says it has so far had more than 86 million hits in the face of ex-president Bush on the Internet.