Bush arrives for APEC after surprise Iraq trip

 @ibtimes
on September 04 2007 10:04 AM

After a lightning visit to Iraq where he hinted at possible U.S. troop cuts, President George W. Bush arrived in Australia on Tuesday for an Asia-Pacific leaders' meeting amid heavy security and anti-war protests.

Trade and climate change will top the agenda at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, and Bush wants the forum's 21 economies to agree to a strongly worded pledge to reinvigorate the Doha round of world trade talks.

But the subject of Iraq will loom over Bush's visit to Australia, whose troop contribution there is featuring prominently in Prime Minister John Howard's re-election bid. Howard is a staunch Bush ally.

Stopping over at a desert air base in Iraq en route to APEC, Bush hailed progress in the war and raised the prospect of troop cuts after meeting top commanders.

Bush is likely to return to that theme on Wednesday morning at a joint news conference with Howard, whose support for Bush and the war has contributed to his weakness in the polls against opposition leader Kevin Rudd.

Australia has about 1,500 troops in and around Iraq. Rudd has vowed to pull non-essential troops from Iraq if he wins.

Bush will spend much of Wednesday with Howard, taking part in a lunch with troops and a dinner at Kirribilli House, the prime minister's residence on Sydney Harbour.

STRONG OPPOSITION

Bush plans to meet Rudd on Thursday and has made clear he would try to persuade the Labor Party leader to back down on his opposition to the Iraq war. Rudd has said he would not do so.

An opinion poll released on Tuesday, commissioned by the Medical Association for the Prevention of War, found 52 percent of Australians believed Bush was the worst president in U.S. history. Just 32 percent said he was not.

Highlighting the strong opposition to the war in Australia, several protests were planned for the APEC meetings, culminating in a major march by the Stop Bush Coalition on Saturday, when the leaders meet at the Sydney Opera House.

On Tuesday, antiwar protesters rallied in front of the city's main railway station hours before Bush arrived amid the nation's biggest ever security operation.

We are here today on the eve of APEC to tell George Bush that he is not welcome, wherever he and his architects of death may travel, said U.S. Iraq veteran Matt Howard in Sydney.

Authorities have erected a 5-km (3-mile) security fence across the central business district to isolate the leaders in the Opera House and nearby hotels. A total of 5,000 police and troops are patrolling the city centre.

Protesters also plan to demonstrate against global warming, human rights abuses in China and nuclear proliferation.

CANDLE-LIT PROTEST

Members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement staged a candle-lit protest when Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in the mining state of Western Australia on Monday.

We'll be following him during his stay in Australia, Lucy Zhao, a Falun Gong campaign organizer, said at a small rally.

Although he has made climate change a major issue at APEC, Howard has said there will be no binding greenhouse gas emission targets. Green groups have said APEC will be a failure if the leaders fail to set such targets.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the APEC hosts were looking for a broad-based approach to the issue.

We will be pressing for a commitment by all APEC economies to the key elements of a genuinely global response to climate change, Downer said in a speech to foreign correspondents.

But some developing countries in the Pacific Rim grouping are uncomfortable that APEC is moving further away from its original mission of focusing on trade and investment.

The United States is pushing for a strong statement from APEC leaders in support of a world trade pact. A draft of the leaders' statement obtained by Reuters said they would pledge to ensure that the Doha round of global trade talks enter their final phase this year.

(Additional reporting by James Regan and Fayen Wong in Sydney)

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