Dozens of supporters of Saddam Hussein took to the streets of his hometown Tikrit yesterday, vowing loyalty to the former leader as he went on trial in a Baghdad courtroom on charges of crimes against humanity.
Iraqi police and soldiers, backed by US troops, maintained tight security in the town, 175 kilometers north of Baghdad, which was home to Saddam's family.
Early in the day several dozen young men gathered chanting "Long Live Saddam Hussein" and carrying banners with slogans such as "Down with the occupation and the puppet government."
Iraqi police kept close watch as protesters waved flags and banners. "We sacrifice our blood and soul for you, Saddam." one banner said, while others said "No to the trial."
By the time the trial started shortly after noon, the crowd had grown to around 100 and was heading towards the headquarters of the provincial government, which is near a US military base. A few protesters fired shots in the air.
"The trial is unfair," said student Dawud Farham, aged 18. "They should put on trial those who are tearing apart Iraq and its people."
Meanwhile in Iran, the trial marked the beginning of the end of a two-decade wait for justice and revenge for the many victims of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.
"We welcome the start of the trial of Saddam, who has committed crimes against humanity," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said in a statement yesterday.
"We hope this court will heal the wounds of those who were harmed by Saddam's crimes ... (and) also teach a good lesson to other oppressors."
(China Daily October 20, 2005)