KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A man threw his shoe at Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in a public conference in the capital on Monday, a particularly insulting action in Arab culture, eye witnesses said.
They said the unidentified man was swiftly detained by about 10 presidential guards although the projectile missed Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in the western Darfur region.
It was not immediately clear why the man hurled his shoe.
The presidency denied any shoe was thrown and said the man was stopped by security while carrying an envelope he wanted to deliver to Bashir.
In Arab culture, it is rude even to show the sole of your shoe to a colleague and shoes are left at the door of mosques.
Former U.S. President George W. Bush was subjected to the same insult in Iraq in 2008 when an Iraqi journalist threw both his shoes at him.
“The man was close to the podium and threw the shoe but it didn’t reach him,” said one eye witness, saying the incident appeared to shock the dozens of officials gathered for the conference on strategic planning for governing Sudan.
Three eye witnesses who had been inside the Friendship Hall in Khartoum, all of whom asked not to be named, confirmed the incident to Reuters. They said the man was in his late 40s or early 50s, was dressed smartly and said nothing.
“He seemed calm, even after he was arrested,” said another of the witnesses.
Witnesses said journalists at the event had recording equipment and cameras taken from them by security after the incident.
Asked for comment, presidential spokesman Emad Sidahmed denied the shoe incident, saying: “The man just wanted to give the president a note... but was intercepted by the security.”
Bashir travels regularly in Sudan giving crowd-pleasing speeches, promising development and often dancing after he speaks. He is usually met by cheering crowds.
Bashir, who took power in 1989 in a bloodless coup, resigned as commander-in-chief of the army this month to run in the first democratic elections in 24 years due in April.
Mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 in Darfur accusing Khartoum of neglect. The revolt sparked a humanitarian crisis which the United Nations estimates claimed 300,000 lives and drove more than 2 million from their homes.
Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000 and blames Western media for exaggerating the conflict.
Separately, violence has been increasing in the south of the vast country, where a civil war was fought until a 2005 peace deal that included promising a referendum on whether the south should secede. The referendum is set for 2011.