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John Howard asks for Apec calm on YouTube

London Telegraph | September 4, 2007
Nick Squires

He epitomises the Bakelite radio era of the 1950s but Australian prime minister John Howard has turned to the 21st century medium of YouTube to appeal for calm during this week's Apec forum.

Protest groups have threatened violence as the leaders of 21 countries come together in Sydney for the latest Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

US President George W Bush will arrive in Australia tomorrow, ahead of President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Australia has embarked on its biggest ever security operation, building a 3.5 mile long concrete and wire fence around central Sydney, cutting off the Opera House and other popular tourists sights from the public.

The fence has been nicknamed by locals The Great Wall of Sydney or the Rabble- Proof Fence, after the popular 2002 Australian film, Rabbit Proof Fence.

The harbour city has been dubbed Fortress Sydney, with police taking to the water on jet skis, roads closed and a brand new water cannon on hand to deal with troublemakers.

Mr Howard, 68, is comfortable on television and radio but not known for being at the cutting edge of the communication revolution.

His You Tube appearance was a rare foray onto the internet and a bid to communicate with potential troublemakers through their medium of choice.

"There will be some individuals who want to protest against Apec," he said on the video clip. "I simply ask them to stop for a moment and consider that if they really are worried about issues such as poverty, security and climate change, then they should support Apec, not attack it."

A protest group calling itself the Stop Bush Coalition plans to demonstrate against President Bush, the war in Iraq and the effects of globalisation during a march in the city centre on Saturday.

Police fear a fringe element of anarchists and other extremists could turn violent.

In addition to the 3,500 police officers on patrol throughout the summit, navy ships are in the harbour, special forces are on standby and F/A 18 Hornet jet fighters are patrolling the skies to deter a terrorist attack.

"Unfortunately, the extra security precautions that are needed to be taken are a necessary part of hosting such meetings in today's world," Mr Howard said. "They are the fault of people who threaten violence as part of their protest."

Mr Howard, a former lawyer and Australia's second longest-serving prime minister, has been in power since 1996. He is hoping to win an historic fifth term at the next federal election, which is expected to be held by the end of the year, and could come as early as next month.

He is likely to announce the date shortly after Apec ends.

In opinion polls he is trailing behind Kevin Rudd, 49, the youthful, mop-haired leader of the opposition Labour Party, whose nicknames include Tintin and Pixie.

Mr Howard had hoped to use Apec as a springboard for his re-election campaign, a prestigious stage on which to hobnob with some of the world's most powerful leaders.

But President Bush's four day visit could turn out to be more of a liability than an electoral boost.

The US president has repeatedly described his Australian friend as "a man of steel" a compliment which may go down well in Texas, but raises mostly titters of embarrassment in the living rooms of Melbourne and Sydney.

Although Australia's military commitment to Iraq is modest and it has only suffered one combat casualty, the public is tiring of the war a discomfort made all the more acute by the British withdrawal from Basra city.

Mr Rudd, a former diplomat, has pledged to bring most Australian troops home from Iraq as soon as he is elected.

Mr Howard, like Tony Blair when he was in power, has left the commitment open-ended but echoes President Bush in saying that it would be unwise to "cut and run".

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