- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2003

CANBERRA, Australia — President Bush today praised Australian Prime Minister John Howard for his steadfast support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq, calling him a “leader of exceptional courage who exemplifies the finest qualities of one of the world’s great democracies.”

In a speech to a joint session of Parliament, Mr. Bush said Australia and the United States share a long history of fighting on the side of justice and freedom, invoking the words of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who addressed the body during World War II.

“He spoke of a code that unites our two nations — the code of free people, which, he said, ‘embraces the things that are right and condemns the things that are wrong.’”

The president’s speech was interrupted several times by vocal members of Parliament, two of whom stood and shouted their opposition to continued imprisonment of two Australians in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on suspicion of terrorism.

When Australian Green Party member Kerry Nettle stood at her desk and shouted at the president, Mr. Bush smiled and, stretching his arms open wide, said: “I love free speech.”

Most of those in attendance clapped — the loudest round of applause during the speech.

Forty-one opposition lawmakers signed a letter criticizing Mr. 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 Mr. Bush shot back in his speech that “Saddam Hussein’s regime is gone and no one should mourn its passing.”

At another point, as the president lauded Australia for taking “responsibility for their neighborhood,” an unknown member shouted: “But we’re not a sheriff.”

During a visit to the president’s Crawford, Texas, ranch last summer, Mr. Bush had called Mr. Howard his “sheriff.”

In a more politically friendly reference, the president noted that he had then described Mr. Howard as “a man of steel.”

“That’s Texan for fair dinkum,” which actually means “genuine.”

Mr. Bush thanked Mr. Howard for sending 2,000 troops from his country’s small army to Iraq and resisting his nation’s largest antiwar marches since Vietnam, “instead of wishing and waiting while tragedy drew closer.”

Outside Parliament, thousands of demonstrators banged drums and shouted at Mr. Bush from security lines 100 yards away from where he entered.

Other protesters jostled with security officials outside the U.S. Embassy compound, where Mr. Bush stayed overnight.

Before speaking to Parliament, Mr. Bush met with Mr. 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,” he said.

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