President Bush Meets Protests At APEC Summit – Howard Government in Trouble

US President George Bush arrived in Australia on Tuesday evening to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit amid furious local protests over his perceived lack of leadership regarding the war in Iraq and climate change.

Air Force One touched down at Sydney International Airport at approximately 10.20pm local time (6.20am Tuesday CST). Mr Bush, who had just visited US troops in Iraq enroute to Australia, was accompanied by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Prime Minister John Howard, who was attending the Dally M Awards to honor Australia’s ‘best and fairest’ rugby league players, was unable to greet Mr Bush on arrival.

Mr Howard has suffered a stinging electoral backlash due to his close alliance with Mr Bush, especially regarding the war in Iraq. Mr Howard’s political career may come to an end after the next federal election, which is due to be held before the end of the year. A poll published Tuesday morning in The Australian newspaper confirmed that the opposition Labor Party now leads the Howard Government (of Liberal and National MPs) by 59% to 41%.

Labor leader Kevin Rudd has pledged to withdraw Australia’s 1,500 troops from Iraq if he is elected Prime Minister.

Political analyst Karen Middleton told World News Australia that the timing of Mr Bush’s visit would be, at best, a mixed blessing for the Howard Government, which could be decimated if the current electoral trend continues.

“Twelve ministers would lose their seats, including the Prime Minister,” said Ms Middleton. “The Government has been trying to emphasize Mr Howard’s experience verses Kevin Rudd’s relative inexperience, and also the strength of his powerful friends. They are hoping they can get some kind of capital out of having so many leaders in Sydney over the next few days. But of course the arrival of George Bush also means talk of the Iraq war, which is not popular in Australia.”

Equally unpopular among Australians is Mr Howard’s refusal, along with Mr Bush, to ratify the Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations. It has been suggested that both leaders agreed to make climate change a main agenda item for the APEC summit in order to shore up support for their respective political parties, as they head into federal elections.

Yet while some delegates have complained about the priority status given to climate change at APEC 2007, scientists and economists continue to emphasize the link between industrial activity and global warming. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics has estimated that the APEC member economies will more than double their combined energy consumption to the equivalent of 13.7 gigatons of oil by the year 2050, causing greenhouse gas emissions to rise in tandem.

As the APEC forum gets underway at the Sydney Opera House, other topics of discussion will include international trade, the war in Iraq and North Korea.

In the meantime, public demonstrations against Mr Bush look set to continue throughout the week. On Saturday, a gathering organized by the Stop Bush Coalition is expected to draw a crowd of 20,000 protesters.

A recent poll commissioned by the Medical Association for the Prevention of War found that 52 percent of Australians rated Mr Bush the worst leader in US history. MAPW spokesman Robert Marr explained, “Most Australians are not anti-American, they’re anti the policies of George Bush, particularly the invasion of Iraq.”

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