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Poll: Bush allies face doubts on terrorism
Updated: 2004-10-11 15:46

President Bush isn't the only world leader facing doubts about his handling of the war on terror. People in Australia, Italy and Britain also harbor reservations about how well their nation's leaders are holding terrorists at bay.

Prime ministers Tony Blair of Britain and John Howard of Australia and Premier Silvio Berlusconi of Italy all get low marks from their people for their handling of the war on terrorism, according to Associated Press-Ipsos polling in their countries.

All three leaders happen to be staunch allies of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Leaders of several countries that opposed the Iraq war get strong ratings on handling terrorism.

The political leaders who joined the Iraq war coalition have faced pressure related to their stance on Iraq.

_Howard won re-election Saturday despite criticism in Australia of his support of the Iraq war. The public was evenly divided on Howard's handling of terrorism, but he apparently was helped by Australia's strong economy.

_Bush faces election in early November in a campaign that is increasingly centered on Iraq, with public doubts about the effects of the Iraq war on the terrorism fight.

_Blair is likely to face election in the spring, and the poll found only one-third approve of his government's handling of the war on terror. The Friday announcement of the beheading in Iraq of British hostage Kenneth Bigley is likely to increase pressure on Blair.

_Berlusconi has seen fears of terrorism increase sharply since last winter — from seven in 10 worried about terrorism in February to almost nine in 10 now. Just over one-third of Italians approve of the government's handling of terrorism. Two Italian women taken hostage in Iraq were freed last month, and an Iraqi who lived in Italy was executed by kidnappers in Iraq early this month. Berlusconi has pledged to lead the country until the end of his term in 2006.

In contrast, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Mexico and Spain all get high marks for their handling of terrorism — with a majority in each country saying they approve, according to polls conducted for the AP by Ipsos, an international polling firm.

French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero have all stated their opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Canada didn't send troops to Iraq.

The leaders' position on the Iraq war is only one of many factors that could affect public perception of their handling of terrorism.

But the poll found growing concern since February in those countries that the Iraq war has increased the terror threat.

And people in most of the countries have grown increasingly concerned about the terrorist threat since last winter, the AP-Ipsos polling found.

"The proportion of people worried by the terrorist threat has increased in most of the countries ... since February," said Gilles Corman, research director at Ipsos-Inra of Belgium, who studies public opinion trends across Europe. "People feel more and more insecure."

About three-fourths or more of the people in Britain, France, Italy and Spain think the war in Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism. Even in the United States, the number who feel that way increased from more than a third in February to more than half now.

"In the context of the presidential campaign in the United States, this is undeniably a blow for George W. Bush, since it shows that a majority of Americans don't agree with the main justification for his policy in Iraq," Corman said.

In Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico and Spain, a majority thought last winter that the Iraq war was increasing the threat of terrorism. That number has increased in each of the countries. Australians were not polled in the AP-Ipsos project last winter.

Fears of terrorism increased in seven of the eight countries polled in the winter and again this fall.

Only in Germany did those worries ease a bit this year. Terrorism fears were high early this year after the terrorist killing of 14 German tourists in 2002 at a Tunisian resort and the revelation that some Sept. 11 hijackers were part of a terror cell in Hamburg.

But public debate in Germany this year has centered on reforms of the social system, labor regulations and the health care system, moving discussion of terrorism out of the spotlight, said Christian Holst, director of public affairs for Ipsos-Germany.

Overall, terrorism and the war in Iraq are likely to stay at the center of public debate in most of the European countries in coming months, said Pierre Giacometti, chief executive and co-director of Ipsos.

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