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Bush thanks Australia for support in Iraq
( 2003-10-23 11:33) (Agencies)

As thousands of anti-war demonstrators protested outside Parliament, President Bush thanked Australia on Thursday for sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan to stand and fight alongside the United States "instead of wishing and waiting while tragedy drew closer."

Bush personally saluted Australian Prime Minister John Howard as "a leader of exceptional courage" for not buckling earlier this year to his nation's largest peace marches since the Vietnam War. Instead, Howard sent 2,000 troops to Iraq.

U.S. President George W. Bush waves as he is welcomed to Australia's Parliament House by Prime Minister John Howard, left, as his wife Laura, center, looks on in Canberra, Oct. 23, 2003.  [AP]
Forty-one opposition lawmakers signed a letter criticizing Bush's war decision, saying the war was conducted on the basis of a clear and present danger in Iraq that did not exist. But Bush shot back in his speech that "Saddam Hussein's regime is gone and no one should mourn its passing."

Outside Parliament, thousands of demonstrators banged drums and shouted at the president from security lines 100 yards away from where Bush entered. Other protesters jostled with security officials outside the U.S. embassy compound where Bush stayed overnight.

Inside Parliament, two Green Party senators shouted war protests at Bush during his speech and were ordered removed, but refused to go. One of them, maverick Sen. Bob Brown, interrupted Bush to say "we are not a sheriff" a reference to Bush's recent description of Howard. Bush smiled during the interruptions and said, "I love free speech."

Bush came here, his last stop on a six-country trip, from Indonesia where he tried to convince skeptical Islamic leaders Wednesday that America is not biased against Muslim countries. He praised the anti-terror work of Indonesia's president in an appearance near the site of an al-Qaida-sponsored bombing that killed more than 200.

Bush praised President Megawati Sikarnoputri, an ally against terrorism, and tried to dispel the conviction of many Muslims that the war on terror is, in fact, a war against Islam. He presented his case in a meeting with moderate religious leaders.

"I felt he was a quite warm person," said Azyumardi Azra, a Muslim scholar at the National Islamic University in Jakarta. "He responded and he listened."

Like Bush, Megawati faces an election next year, and she tried to appear close to Bush while saying that her citizens are suspicious of the United States. "We do not always share common perspective," Megawati said.

En route to Australia, Bush told reporters on Air Force One that he told the religious leaders in Bali that he disagreed with those who say America is anti-Islamic, and too pro-Israel. "They said the United States' policy is tilted toward Israel, and I said our policy is tilted toward peace," Bush said.

Australia was the last stop on a grueling six-country trip that won international support for Bush's initiative to help solve the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Laura Bush, left, wife of U.S. Presient George W. Bush tours Australia's Parliament House with Janette Howard, right, wife of Prime Minister John Howard in Canberra, Oct. 23, 2003.  [AP]
"Kim Jong Il is used to being able to deal bilaterally with the United States, but the change of policy now is, is that he must deal with other nations, most notably China," Bush said on Air Force One. "Now he's got his big neighbor to the right on his border, he's got a neighbor to the south, he's got Japan, he's got another neighbor, Russia, all saying the same thing."

Introducing Bush to the Australian Parliament, Howard acknowledged the fierce debate over the war. "We had a divided view in this nation," he said, adding that "we believe the right decision was made."

Before speaking to Parliament, Bush met with Howard and said the United States hopes to complete a free-trade agreement with Australia by December. "It's good for America. It's good for American workers. It's good for Australia," Bush said.

In his speech, Bush vigorously defended using force in Afghanistan and Iraq, saying that terrorists had been trying to gain chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

"America, Australia and other nations acted in Iraq to remove a grave and gathering danger, instead of wishing and waiting while tragedy drew closer," the president said.

While no weapons of mass destruction have been found, Bush said the United States has discovered secret biological laboratories in Iraq, design work on prohibited long range missiles and a campaign to hide an illegal weapons program.

"Who can possibly think that the world would be better off with Saddam Hussein still in power?" Bush said, citing evidence of mass killings, torture and rape.

The president cautioned the world still faces grave threats from terrorists.

"With decisive victories behind us, we still have decisive days ahead," the president said. "We cannot let up in our offensive against terror, even a bit. And we must continue to building stability and peace in the Middle East and Asia as the alternatives to hatred and fear."

Opposition leader Simon Crean said that "on occasions friends do disagree as we did on this side with you on the war in Iraq." But he said that such differences "can enrich rather than diminish, they can strengthen rather than weaken the partnership. Our commitment to the alliance remains unshakable as does our commitment to the war on terror."

Bush's stop in Bali had special significance in Australia. Many of the 202 tourists killed in terrorist bombings a year ago were Australian tourists.

"No people are immune from the sudden violence that can come to an office building or an airplane or a nightclub or a city bus," Bush said. "Your nation and mine have known the shock, and felt the sorrow, and laid the dead to rest. And we refuse to live our lives at the mercy of murders."

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