Shoe thrown at Chinese PM during speech at Cambridge University in the UK

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao.
Image: World Economic Forum.

An unnamed 27-year-old man has been arrested and charged with "public order offenses" after he threw a shoe at the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao while he was giving a speech at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom on Monday February 2. The speech was related to China's and the world economy titled See China in the Light of Her Development. Wen was on a seven day tour of Europe, his final stop being the University.

The man yelled "dictator" and asked the crowd, "how can this university prostitute itself with this dictator here, how can you him unchallenged," as he threw the shoe at the prime minister. Wen called the incident "despicable". The shoe did not hit Wen, but landed a few feet from where he was standing.

"His [the man's] behavior met strong opposition of the entire audience. He was booed and taken away. The whole audience gave long and warm applause to Premier Wen for his excellent speech. The facts demonstrate that the despicable conduct of this troublemaker will win no sympathy, and will not hold back the tide of friendly cooperation between China and Britain," said the Chinese government in a statement posted on their website.

The University has also apologized for the incident saying, "[we] are very sorry that the incident happened and the person will be dealt with according to law. The university is a place for discussion, debate and considered argument, not for shoe throwing". According to authorities, there was never any real threat to the prime minister. The man will appear before a judge on February 10.

On Sunday December 14, 2008, an Iraqi journalist for an Egyptian Newspaper named Muntazer al-Zaidi was tackled by authorities after he threw his shoes at former United States president George W. Bush during a press conference in Baghdad. Bush had made a surprise last visit to Iraq to sign a new security pact brokered by Iraq and the U.S. Bush ducked as the flying shoes zipped past him, barely missing the now former U.S. president.

In Arabic culture, hitting or throwing shoes at someone so the soles hit them is considered a great insult. In 2003, when Iraqi citizens tore down the statue of Saddam Hussein in downtown Baghdad, they began to smack it with the soles of their shoes.

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